The Program for International Student Assessment was first administered to 15‐year‐olds in 2000, testing them on mathematics, reading, and science. Students in the United States earned an overall math score of 493 on the 1000 point scale, seven points below average, placing us 18th out of the 27 participating countries. Three years later, PISA results showed no significant change in U.S. math performance. But according to the latest report the U.S. suffered a significant decline in mathematics achievement between 2003 and 2006. We now score 474 — in 25th place among the 30 participating countries.
U.S. reading scores fell somewhat on PISA between 2000 and 2003, but not enough for the difference to be considered significant by OECD statisticians. Regrettably, no reading results are available for 2006, due to a printing error.
PISA also tests students in science, a subject area not specifically targeted by NCLB. Still, it seems reasonable to expect that if the law were actually improving math and reading performance, students might have an easier time with science as a result. As it happens, our overall science score dropped from 499 in 2000, to 489 last year, and our ranking fell from 14th out of 27 countries to 21st out of 30 countries.
But this decline actually understates the drop in our science performance, because several other nations have been getting worse as well, bringing down the overall average. When we look only at students’ answers to the questions that were asked in both 2003 and 2006, the U.S. suffered a 13.5 point drop — the fourth largest decline among the 30 participating countries.
So, according to the PISA test, U.S. students have suffered overall stagnation or decline in math, reading, and science in the years since NCLB was passed. What about the score gaps? Figures for racial and ethnic achievement for both 2000 and 2006 are only available on the science test, and they show a 13 point narrowing of the Hispanic/white gap and a 14 point increase in the black/white gap. Since these changes are roughly equal in size but opposite in direction, it is hard to imagine that either was caused by NCLB, which has no obvious features that might lead such a disparate effect on Hispanic and black students.