By Superintendent Philip Pempin
You may have heard news reports about the educational achievements of U.S. students compared with students in other countries. Many times these reports paint a grim picture of a public education system that is falling far behind student achievement in other nations. I was interested to read a recent report commissioned by the National Superintendent’s Roundtable and the Horace Mann League on this issue. The report concluded that the vast majority of students in most countries around the world would be labeled as failures under the proficiency benchmarks dictated in Common Core assessments required by the U.S. Department of Education.
The report, titled “How High the Bar?” linked the performance of foreign students on international tests of reading, math and science to the proficiency benchmarks of that National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP is the longest continuing assessment of student progress in the U.S. Nations included in the report are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Finland and China.
The study examined major assessments that are similar to the NAEP. In summary, the report found that:
- Very few students in most nations would achieve the NAEP proficiency level that U.S. students face in reading, math and science.
- In no nation do a majority of students meet the NAEP Proficient benchmark in grade 4 reading.
- Only three nations show 50 percent or more of students meeting the proficient benchmark in Grade 8 math. Those nations are Singapore, Republic of Korea and Japan.
- Only one nation has 50 percent or more of its students meeting the proficient benchmark in grade 8 science (Singapore).
- The U.S. ranked fifth among the world’s 40 largest and wealthiest nations in Grade 4 reading at the NAEP Proficient benchmark.
The report questions the term “proficient” as used by the U.S. Department of Education, and suggest that USDOE should revisit its use of that term when determining whether schools are succeeding or failing.
As educators, we know that we must continue to challenge not only our students, but also our teaching staff. However, education leaders may need to look at more effective ways to measure “proficiency” if we are to continue to compete in a global economy.