Poor Grades for U.S. Math Students

Imagine a global math class: U.S. students would receive a grade of C while the top nations—Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan—would earn a B. The grades come from a Washington, D.C., think tank that has reinterpreted the results of a well-known international math assessment to highlight how much U.S. students need to improve to be proficient. (No nation gets an A, which would require the average student to demonstrate an advanced level of understanding.)

"The race to the top starts with knowing where we stand and how high the bar is over which we need to jump," explains Gary Phillips of the American Institutes for Research in presenting a new report today on international benchmarks in mathematics. "We are shooting for a B," he added, which would meet the proficient standard on the National Assessment of Educational Progress used to measure the achievement levels of U.S. students.

Working with the most recent scores on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Phillips converted the study's categories of advanced, high, intermediate, and low into letter grades. U.S. fourth graders received a C+, while eighth graders slipped to a C. The top Asian nations earned B+ and B, and their scores did not decline from elementary to middle school. Within the United States, Massachusetts led the nation, with its 4th graders earning a B and its eighth graders a B-. No other state scored above a C+ in eighth grade math.