U.S. Teens Do OK on International Problem-Solving Test

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

A new international test of students' problem-solving skills is out and American teens are…not on top.


American teens have long lagged Asian and Scandinavian countries when it comes to math, science and reading levels. And some of that lag has been dismissed with the notion that the United States produces some of the most innovative and thoughtful leaders in the world.

So when news broke Tuesday that American students scored above average in the first ever test of problem-solving abilities, administered by the same organization that handles the traditional science, math and reading tests, people emphasized that fact.

And why not? It looks like, finally, a bit of good education news.

But hold up. Those countries that outperformed the U.S. on math, science and reading tests? The ones people like to say must emphasize mindless drilling and rote memorization? Yeah, they beat the U.S. when it comes to problem-solving, too.

Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Korea and parts of China rank at the top of both sets of tests (in varying orders).

In other words, students in those countries and regions are good at thinking critically and problem-solving, too.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

The Brookings Institution has noted that ranking Shanghai, which comes in near the top of the problem-solving study and at the very top for math, science and reading, toward the top of such studies is misleading because the region has a school system that excludes migrant children.


The United States has an inclusive public school system that includes diverse students struggling with a number of outside factors - poverty, immigration status, abuse, neglect - that can lead to lower scores.

So the United States is unfairly disadvantaged. Fine. But if the United States is committed - as it should be - to educating all of its students, the country is going to have to do a better job of overcoming disadvantages and producing better students.


Because the reality is that in this global economy, there are plenty of well-educated - in terms of math, science and reading skills and problem-solving abilities - students from around the world who are going to make far more attractive employees.

To see some of the questions students who took the survey answered, go here.

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.