U.S. and international testing, Part 2: “Countries” in U.S. perform very well


by David Safier

This is the second in a series of posts about the latest international test scores for reading, math and science. You can read the first post here.

The U.S. is a big, diverse country. Creating a national test score by averaging the results from 50 states doesn't tell the whole story. When we disaggregate the data by looking at states that have populations similar to small countries, we find that some of them do considerably better than the U.S. average, meaning others do considerably worse.

Massachusetts, Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota and a few other states agreed to have a large enough sample of students take some of the international tests that they could be scored as participating countries. Some of them did exceptionally well.

Massachusetts, for instance, participated separately in the 8th grade science exam and came in 2nd in the world, behind 1st place Singapore, scoring 42 points higher than the U.S. average.

In 4th grade reading, Florida came in 2nd, just 2 points behind 1st place Hong Kong and 14 points ahead of 6th place U.S. (It needs to be said that, since Florida holds back 3rd graders with low reading scores, its 4th grade average is probably a bit inflated.)

In 4th grade math, North Carolina came in 7th, 13 points above the 11th place U.S. In 8th grade math, Massachusetts came in 6th, scoring 52 points higher than the 9th place U.S., and Minnesota came in right behind Massachusetts, edging out the U.S. by 36 points.

Comparisons based on earlier international tests show wild educational disparities between regions of the U.S. According to test scores, many Northeastern states are producing a world class crop of students. Massachusetts and Minnesota are standouts. Much of the South, however — states like Mississippi and Alabama — don't stack up so well. Their test-based achievement is closer to what you find in places like Lebanon and Turkey.

Conservative "education reform" folks never tire of telling us school district
bureaucracies and teachers' unions are destroying our children's
education, and they use the U.S. ranking on international test scores to "prove" their point. But a closer look at the tests give the lie to their assertions. Better they condemn the educational performance of some states, especially the red states, and look to some of the high performing blue states to show them how it's done.


  1. Why can’t politicians and journalists analyze this data as you have? Maybe because the Gates Foundation is pouring money into reformey groups that bash teacher unions and promote charter schools as the answer to the manufactured “crisis” in education.