U.S. Youth Fall Short on Common Standards, Trail Global Peers

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Two new reports – one domestic and one international – underscore the challenges in preparing our young people for a global economy in which education plays a decisive role in success.

An analysis by ACT spotlights how hard our schools must work to get all students meeting the expectations outlined in the new Common Core State Standards Initiative: Right now, only about half of our nation’s eleventh-graders would reach these new college and career-ready levels of achievement in writing and language. For geometry, the rate would drop to less than one-third.

The ACT report also points to massive achievement gaps. Take reading, where an estimated 47 percent of white eleventh-graders reach standards, compared with 19 percent of Hispanic and 11 percent of black counterparts. In algebra, some 41 percent of white high school juniors are likely to meet Common Core, as opposed to only 21 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of black students.

On the global front, the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows the United States edging up in math and science, but still reaching only the middle of the pack in the developed world.

Among 34 developed nations, America’s 15-year-olds rank 25th in math and 17th in science, despite rising achievement in both areas. Since 2000, reading scores fell in many countries, including the United States – which now ranks 12th, tied with Poland and Iceland and far below neighboring Canada, which placed third.

Compared to other developed countries, the United States has the fifth largest gap between low-income students and their more affluent classmates. In reading, for example, students attending our high-poverty high schools performed 24 percent below those from higher income schools. As in the ACT analysis, ethnic and racial achievement gaps emerge on PISA, with black and Hispanic students scoring far below their white peers in both math and science.

Taken together, these two studies make one thing blazingly clear: We as a nation must lift achievement for all kids, especially students of color and those from low-income families. Doing so would go a long way toward both meeting Common Core standards and raising our educational stature on the world stage.