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Slight uptick in U.S. high school science scores vs. international

By Sally Holland, CNN Producer
  • The new figures are an improvement over performance in 2006
  • The reading scores are not markedly different
  • The assessment measures reading, math and science for 15-year-olds
  • Shanghai leads the world in those areas, the report says

Washington (CNN) -- In science, 15-year-old students in the United States performed about average as compared to their counterparts in other industrialized nations, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Education Department.

The good news is that's an improvement over the U.S. student performance in 2006, the last time the numbers were compared under the Program for International Student Assessment.

On the down side, in reading the United States' average score was not markedly different from the U.S. scores of 2006. And, although the mathematics scores were up for 2009 as compared to three years earlier, they were about the same as the scores of U.S. students in 2003.

12th graders' scores up in match and science

"Relative to other countries, the United States is decidedly weaker in mathematics than in reading or even science, although there is evidence that the U.S. is making progress relative to similarly performing countries," said National Center of Education Sciences Deputy Commissioner Stuart Kerachsky in a news release.

The international student assessment measures reading, mathematics and science for 15-year-olds every three years with a special emphasis on one of those subject areas for each report.

In 2009, in-depth research was conducted on reading literacy. Over 60 countries and education entities participated in the 2009 assessment, which was coordinated by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries.

The Shanghai area of China, although not officially in the OECD, is one of the education entities included in the international assessment report.

The report indicates that students in the city, the most populous in China, lead the world in math, science and reading.

"While not representative of all of China, this is sure to send shock waves through the U.S. and Europe as it's yet another sign of China's rising dominance," according to Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The United States' teenagers scored slightly above average in reading as compared to the other 33 countries in the OECD. Girls scored better than boys in reading literacy in all 65 participating countries and education entities.

For mathematics, the improvement shown in U.S. students from 2006 was not enough to bring the scores up to the average score of the other OECD countries in the comparison. In math, South Korea, Finland, Switzerland, Japan and Canada had the highest scores among the OECD countries.

In science, the highest scores for OECD countries were earned by Finland, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Canada.