US students lag behind in international test

HANCOCK – The results from the 2012 Program for International Assessment revealed that American teenagers rank below many other nations academically. Coming in 36 of the 65 countries tested and scored below the average in math and about average in reading and science. Shanghai came in first place in all subjects and overall, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Macau and Japan in the top seven spots.

The test is given to 15-year-old students in participating countries every three years and ranks them in math, science and reading. The three scores are averaged to produce the list of rankings. American students saw little improvement from the 2009 results.

The test looks at the nation as a whole, with very few states electing to receive individual results. Although Michigan does not receive their results as compared to the rest of America, Dennis Harbour, superintendent of the Copper Country Intermediate School District, views this and other national tests as a benchmark upon which to compare local students.

“Our concern is how we compare statewide and nationally,” Harbour said. “Our kids have done tremendously well on ACT, SAT and national testing, so when you look at how the nation ranks at large it oftentimes is used as a comparison to us. We exceed the national average by a healthy margin so the significance of (the results), I think, on local educators is minimum.”

Although state and national standardized testing is still important to local schools, those in the CCISD aim for higher results than the national averages.

“If our local kids were in the category of the national average we’d probably be very concerned,” Harbour said. “You discuss this with parents of our children and the first thing they’ll say is ‘How’s my kid doing? How are our kids doing compared to the nation at large?’ The answer always is we do significantly better than state and national standards.”

The main purpose of standardized tests for the schools in the CCISD is to provide a benchmark for how they are performing compared to other schools in the nation.

“No matter how hard we try to make national rankings known as a significant comparison, the local parents’, board members’, educators’, teachers’ and administrators’ first question is how have our kids done if comparing apples to apples – and we need nationally used tests that are used across the country to compare apples to apples,” Harbour said.

During his many years with the CCISD, Harbour said that all 13 school districts in the CCISD consistently outperform national averages. He believes this success is due to multiple factors, including quality teachers and parents who are active in their children’s education.

“We believe our schools are safe and a good place to learn and we hire the best teachers available to us. It makes a huge difference,” Harbour said. “I don’t care if you have all the money in the world, if you don’t have competent teachers to execute curriculum, you don’t have anything.”