Canadian 15-year-olds achieved respectable results while their American counterparts plummeted on the latest international rankings of mathematics, science and reading skills. On the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests released December 7, 2010, Canada finished 8th among 65 OECD countries in mathematics, 7th in science, and 5th in reading. Americans were stunned by the latest results, placing their students 31st in math, 23rd in science, and 17th in reading. Of greatest concern to North Americans was the fact that five of the top ten countries were Asian, led by Shanghai-China, Singapore, and Korea.
The abysmal American PISA rankings sparked sheer panic, prominently featured in the New York Times. Harking back to the Soviet Sputnik scare of the mid-1950s, Chester Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, described it as “a Sputnik moment” for Americans. “Wow, I’m kind of stunned, I’m thinking Sputnik,” he said. “I’ve seen how relentless the Chinese are at accomplishing goals, and if they can do this in Shanghai in 2009, they can do it in 50 cities in 2019, and in 100 cities by 2029.”
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International tests provide one of the few reliable yardsticks in trying to assess the quality of education and
levels of student performance.
The 2009 PISA results and rankings will be debated for years, dominated by a few key questions:
Why have China, Singapore and Korea surged ahead, leaving the United States
behind in the “Race to the Top”? Where do Canada and the U.S. really rank in terms of student performance levels? And will the PISA results produce a seismic shift in North America comparable to the Sputnik scare of fifty years ago?