American students scored in the top four nations in terms of reading literacy on the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), posting a 16 point increase (from 540 to 556) since 2006. The gains made by American students also outpace the gains made by the nations that the United States currently trails on the reading measure (Finland, Russia, and Singapore). The marked improvements reversed a disturbing trend from the 2006 exam where American students’ scores declined by two points from 2001 to 2006. Gaps in achievement are still persistent, particularly for low income students, and much more needs to be done to get American education on par with the top nations in the world. But this improvement shows that targeted efforts to improve literacy in the early years across the nation are having the intended impact.
In terms of science and math achievement, as measured by the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), the United States remains above the average for participating countries. However, Massachusetts scored higher than every nation besides Singapore in math and Minnesota trailed only Singapore and Taiwan in science. The success of these education leaders demonstrates that the United States can compete internationally in science in math if thoughtful education policies are implemented throughout the country.
Both states have improved student learning by emphasizing critical thinking skills, elevating the teaching profession, providing high quality early learning, and linking educational interventions to cutting edge educational research. North Carolina policymakers should look to these states for reforms that have proven international results rather than focusing on measures designed to cut funding, privatize schools, and punish teacher and students on the basis of test scores – none of which are being employed by the highest performing states or nations.