The Norman Transcript

Columns

October 14, 2013

Poor scores go past the current generation

NORMAN —

Tired of bemoaning the deplorable rankings of American students when their test scores are compared to their peers in other developed countries?

Lighten up and look in the mirror. It seems the problem begins a generation back, if not two or three. If we are becoming a nation of educational slackers, the roots of the issue might be with mom, dad, grandma and grandpa.

In a new report, American adults are ranked as poorly against their counterparts abroad as our schoolchildren were a little while back. The report is based on tests conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the same international organization that has ranked school performance in member nations. It is first widespread sampling of math, literacy and the problem-solving technical skills of 16- to 65-year-old adults in developed countries.

American adults placed near the middle in literacy and close to the bottom in basic math and technology skills when ranked against adults in 23 other developed countries. At the top of the charts were Japan, Finland and Sweden.

In math, just 9 percent of Americans scored in the top two proficiency levels, compared with a 23-country average of 12 percent, and 19 percent in Finland, Japan and Sweden.

More than just painting an unflattering picture of the skill levels of American adults across several generations, the report also sounds familiar and troubling themes regarding economic divides and the impact education has on the functioning of a civil society.

Not surprisingly, divides in skill level can be found between the employed and the unemployed. In the U.S., the cleavages in skill levels between the highly educated and the under-educated is more pronounced than in peer nations, with fewer people occupying the middle ground.

That is, there’s a strong correlation between poor education and poverty, and it ought to serve as a warning that the American faith in upward mobility may be meaningless for future generations.

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