Nightly News   |  December 03, 2013

American test scores stagnate as other countries improve

After about half a million students took the PISA exams, US performance remained flat. America has a child poverty rate nearly double that of some countries that outperform the United States, which is thought to be a factor. Experts say the test results will likely intensify the debate over education reform. NBC’s Rehema Ellis reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> and now we turn to the sobering news about the state of education in the country. and just how quickly the rest of the world is passing us by. we get the details from our chief education correspondent, ra had hama ellis.

>> reporter: these students took the exam, the international tests given every three years.

>> while 14 out of the 65 countries that participated in the test, improved the u.s. performance remained fundamentally flat.

>> reporter: of 34 industrialized countries , the united states is nowhere near the top of the list. and since 2009 , the last time the tests were taken, its ranking has dropped in all three subjects, now placing 26th in math, 21st in science, and 27th in reading.

>> we're at the place where other countries start to laugh at us.

>> reporter: some of those ahead of us, china, canada, germany, poland and latvia. even developing countries like vietnam.

>> the asian countries like korea, japan, taiwan, and vietnam, they're doing extraordinarily well because they make it very clear to their students in high school just exactly how important education is.

>> reporter: we saw that firsthand on a recent visit to shanghai. why do you want to study so much?

>> because i want to have a better future and do some contribution to our society.

>> reporter: but some argue the low rankings reflect what they call america 's emphasis on testing, the diverse population, and others cite poverty as a factor. america has a child poverty rate nearly double that of countries like canada and germany, who out-perform the united states . today's statistics are a sobering reminder that our young people are not where they need to be for the future. and experts say the test results will likely intensify the debate around the education reform in america that includes teacher evaluation and tougher reading standards and expanding school choice , the question is, will any of the current reforms lead to better test results when the tests are taken again in 20 years?

>> i so wish we had better news, thank you.