WaPo: U.S. schoolchildren tumble in international reading exam rankings, worrying educators

There was lots of hand-wringing going on in Washington on Tuesday following the release of new scores from the 2016 administration of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).

Some takeaways from the Washington Post’s coverage include:


  • “The United States tumbled in international rankings released Tuesday of reading skills among fourth-graders, raising warning flags about students’ ability to compete with international peers.”
  • “The decline was especially precipitous for the lowest-performing students, a finding that suggests widening disparities in the U.S. education system.”
  • “The country’s ranking fell from fifth in the world in 2011 to 13th, with 12 education systems outscoring the United States by statistically significant margins.”

The Post quotes Peggy G. Carr, acting commissioner for the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, as saying:

“We seem to be declining as other education systems record larger gains on the assessment. This is a trend we’ve seen on other international assessments in which the U.S. participates.”

Another educator quoted by the Post is Martin West, an education professor at Harvard University. He said, “the results are disappointing, particularly because they may show that efforts to improve educational outcomes for the most challenged students are not paying off.”

That isn’t a surprise to those who know that research going all the way back to the Lyndon Johnson era shows that Progressive Education fad ideas are least effective with less advantaged students. The adoption of Common Core was accompanied by many schools adopting Progressive Education programs, unfortunately, and PIRLS seems to indicate that Johnson era research on education still rings true today.

By the way, one country that moved ahead of the United States was Latvia, which the Post says is “one of the poorest countries in the European Union.”

There are always concerns with international testing that other countries don’t test all their students, and so forth. Still, it doesn’t seem very likely that other countries would change their policies a lot from administration to administration of PIRLS, so the United States’ decline does provide cause to worry.

Thus, while we are still waiting for the release of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress results for the nation and the states to give us more insight, the new 2016 PIRLS data already provides more indications that Common Core might not be getting the job done for our kids.

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