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[Excerpt] The scientific and mathematical competence of American high school students is generally recognized to be very low. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that only 7.5 percent of 17 year old students can "integrate specialized scientific information" (NAEP 1988a p.51) and 6.4 percent "demonstrated the capacity to apply mathematical operations in a variety of problem settings." (NAEP 1988b p. 42) There is a large gap between the science and math competence of young Americans and their counterparts overseas. In the 1960s, the low ranking of American high school students in such comparisons was attributed to the fact that the test was administered to a larger proportion of American than European and Japanese youth. This is no longer the case. Figures 1 to 4 plot the scores in Algebra, Biology, Chemistry and Physics against proportion of the 18-year old population in the types of courses to which the international test was administered. In the Second International Math Study, the universe from which the American sample was drawn consisted of high school seniors taking a college preparatory math course. This group represents 13 percent of the age cohort, a proportion that is roughly comparable to the 12 percent of Japanese youth who were in their sample frame and is considerably smaller than the 19 percent of youth in the Canadian province of Ontario and the 50 percent of Hungarians who took the test. In Algebra, the mean score for this very select group of American students was about equal to the mean score of the much larger group of Hungarians and substantially below the Canadian achievement level (McKnight et al 1987).


Suggested Citation
Bishop, J. (1989). Incentives for learning: Why American high school students compare so poorly to their counterparts overseas (CAHRS Working Paper #89-09). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies.