On the fourth of July holiday, it seems little un-American to post an article questioning if America really is the best in higher education…but patriotism aside, I thought this article was interesting. In a recent New York Times piece, Kevin Casey describes the results of a recent international test of adult competencies, called the Piaac (similar to the PISA test given to K-12 students internationally):
“Only 18 percent of American adults with bachelor’s degrees score at the top two levels of numeracy, compared with the international average of 24 percent. Over one-third of American bachelor’s degree holders failed to reach Level 3 on the five-level Piaac scale, which means that they cannot perform math-related tasks that “require several steps and may involve the choice of problem-solving strategies.” Americans with associate’s and graduate degrees also lag behind their international peers.
American results on the literacy and technology tests were somewhat better, in the sense that they were only mediocre. American adults were eighth from the bottom in literacy, for instance. And recent college graduates look no better than older ones. Among people ages 16 to 29 with a bachelor’s degree or better, America ranks 16th out of 24 in numeracy. There is no reason to believe that American colleges are, on average, the best in the world.”
A few days later, the NYT published letters to the editor in response to this article. Many readers, who were professors or educational researchers, felt that relying on a standardized assessment to measure the quality of universities wasn’t the best. Other commenters point out that US university students engage more in discussion and group projects, which may not lead to great test scores, but may lead to useful skills for the workforce.