More on International School Comparisons by Bob Somerby of Daily Howler

Here is the Howler’s Part 2 analyzing the results of the latest TIMMS and PIRLS international comparisons of 4th and 8th grade students. He makes the point that over and over again, US newspapers and editorial staff keep complaining about how poorly American students do in these international rankings, when the facts are exactly the opposite.

A quote:

Nations outscored in reading by U.S. fourth-graders, 2011 PIRLS (partial list):
Denmark, Croatia, Taiwan, Ireland, England, Canada, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Israel, Portugal, Hungary, Slovak Republic, New Zealand, Slovenia, Austria, Lithuania, Australia, Poland, France, Spain, Norway, Belgium (Flemish region)

Really? American fourth-graders outscored their peers in England, Canada, Germany, France? In Australia, Spain, Italy and Taiwan—and in a host of smaller European nations? 

Would a reader gain any idea of this fact from reading this gloomy AP report? Would that reader ever guess that U.S. fourth-graders were outscored by their peers in only three actual nations, plus Hong Kong and Northern Ireland, even as they kicked the keisters of fourth-graders spanning the globe?

and here is his first article in the series:

Here he presents duelling headlines from different newspapers:

Gloomy headlines about the new scores:
Associated Press, December 11: US students far from first in math, science
New York Times, December 11: U.S. Students Still Lag Globally In Math and Science, Tests Show
Washington Post, December 11: U.S. still trails Asia in student test scores


Upbeat headlines about the new scores:
USA Today, December 11: USA’s schools move up in international rankings
Christian Science Monitor, December 11: How does US compare in math, science, reading? 
Younger students do better 
Two international studies show fourth- and eighth-grade scores in math, science, and reading in 2011. In the US, there’s no cause for alarm, or celebration.


More on PIRLS international assessment of nations in reading

It’s utterly amazing:

Twelve minutes after twelve noon on December 12, 2012, (that is, 12:12 on 12/12/12 has come and gone, and somehow the sky still hasn’t fallen.

American fourth-grade students actually did quite well in comparison to about 50 nations in reading and literacy, according to the most recent PIRLS data. Here are two more graphs that I will share with you, which I took from pages 68 and 69 of that report.

PIRLS 4th grade benchmarks reading by nationThis graph is packed full of information!

First of all, notice that the USA is #7 out of all the 40+ nations when ranked by what percentage of students in each country attained scores deemed “advanced”.  We beat nations like Ireland, Israel, NZ, Canada, Taiwan, Denmark, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Austria, and many more. That’s not bad.

Further, if you look at the middle, vertical blue line that I drew, you notice that the US has the sixth highest rate in the WORLD of students reaching the “high” benchmark as defined by PIRLS.

Finally, if you look at the median percentages, shown at the very bottom of the page and circled in blue by me, you see that the American rankings are way higher (farther to the right) than any of them.

My next graph shows how a few regions did. I’m going to take this with a bit more salt, however:

PIRLS 4th grade benchmarks for various regions


According to this table, Florida alone is #2 in the entire world. Is that really true? I don’t know; it doesn’t appear to be so highly ranked in reading on the NAEP; it’s tied for 12th place with Delaware, Kentucky, and Montana.

But I think it’s fair to say that American kids aren’t doing as poorly as many pundits and politicians keep saying.



Published in: on December 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm  Comments (6)  
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International Reading Data from 2011 PIRLS – Huge Surprise Again: Sky Isn’t Falling

I just started looking at the data in the PIRLS study that was released on Monday.

Once again, US students are not at the bottom as many politicians and pundits would have you believe. In fact, as you can see pretty clearly this graph (from page 38, exhibit 1.1) , if the data are correct, our 4th graders read much closer to the top than to the bottom in the countries tested. Number 6 out of over 40 countries isn’t all that horrible.

PIRLS reading 4th grade 2011 by nation

I foresee, however, that certain pundits will spin this as evidence that American students — and more importantly, their teachers — are doing horribly.


Another non-surprise in this data: there is a gap in every single country between those who read well and those who read poorly. The width of the bands on the right is proportional to the gap in scores between the highest-achievers and the lowest achievers. Just as on the TIMMS, the gap between the scores of those at the top 5% of students in each country and those at the bottom 5% seem to be very wide in Romania and some middle Eastern countries, and narrowest in The Netherlands. The corresponding gap in the US seems of middling size.

Or else the data reported by principals might not be accurate.

Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 3:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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