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Heads in the Sand: What U.S. Test Scores Really Tell Us

The recent conclusion that American high school seniors rank near the very bottom in the world based on their knowledge of math and science has unleashed a storm of debate over the validity of academic tests.

News and commentary pieces in leading U.S. newspapers dismissed the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) as misleading and unreflective of the freedom and creative thinking alive in U.S. classrooms.

But Diane Ravitch, a Brookings senior fellow and leading authority on education, says that these interpretations are seriously flawed and mask a real crisis in American education in these critical areas.

Ravitch argues that the head-in-the-sand interpretations of self-proclaimed experts who suggest that lousy test scores reflect innovation and ingenuity in the classroom, or age and cultural differences between test-takers, lead to damaging complacency. “It is time to set the record straight about this carefully designed test,” says Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education under Bush.

To do so, Brookings has assembled a panel of leading experts to address:

  • The true significance of TIMSS
  • Long-term implications for the competitiveness of the American workforce in the global economy
  • Academic test scores generally — which to take seriously, and how to interpret them




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