According to PISA 2018, the United States scored below the OECD average for math proficiency. On a scale of 0–1,000, the average score in math proficiency among education systems ranged from 592 in China to 326 in the Dominican Republic. The US scored 478, while the OECD average was 489. This below-average score for the US put it below many Asian countries and autonomous areas, like Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea. It also puts the US significantly behind other western nations, like nearly all of Europe, Estonia, the UK, and Canada. Unfortunately, this isn’t new territory for American 15-year-olds, because America has been bouncing along the below-average scores for 20 years, since the PISA test began. In fact, while US math scores have not been declining, there’s also been no detectable change in since 2003.
Despite these low math scores, Americans seem to be in denial. In several studies of attitudes towards math readiness on the global stage, most Americans don’t see any problems, and many actually believe American students have comparable math skills to their foreign peers. According to a 2008 survey by the Associated Press, nearly 50 percent of Americans erroneously believed that American students were doing well in math, even thought most of them admitted that education helped improve economic growth. Americans who believe their schools are excellent also tend to feel that other schools in their area don’t measure up.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores in math routinely show that only one-third of American 8th graders are proficient in math. A US News and World Report article by veteran teacher Elie Venezky remarked in 2018 that there’s a small silver lining…at least math scores have not been declining in the past few decades (with the exception of the pandemic, of course). In other words, the US is consistently terrible on average. One US student population is seeing math scores actually improve, and that’s the top quartile of students. However, the achievement gap is widening, and bottom 10th percentile has lost ground, and most student populations have not seen improvements.
US students not only test poorly in math, but the U.S. does poorly compared to other countries in teaching math. For example, the average fourth grader in the U.S. is expected to know about 40% of what he or she needs to know to succeed in high school. This compares to 70% in France, 80% in South Korea and 90% in New Zealand.