The latest PISA scores in math were released today, and the results are below (along with earlier results in the reading test). US scores were pretty mediocre: 481 in math compared to an OECD average of 494, and 498 in reading compared to an OECD average of 496.
It's hard to know for sure what to think of these results. On a different international test, the TIMSS, American kids did pretty well. 8th graders scored in the top ten in math and science, as did 4th graders in reading. So why the big difference between TIMSS and PISA?
This baffles me a bit. The idea behind PISA is that instead of asking kids to answer rote questions, it tests whether they can "apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society." But a couple of months ago, when I was writing about Amanda Ripley's book, The Smartest Kids in the World, I got curious about this and looked up some sample math questions from both tests. Obviously this is just anecdotal, but I didn't really see much difference. They both seemed filled with fairly routine story problems: reading graphs, computing averages, figuring out areas and volumes, etc. There might well be a genuine difference that's not obvious on casual inspection, and I understand that the quick impression of a 55-year-old college graduate doesn't mean much, but I'd still be interested in data showing that scores on PISA predict future academic success (or economic success or something success) better than other tests.
In the meantime, the latest PISA scores are below. Make of them what you will.