AMERICAN students have a long way to go if they are going to be "first in the world in science and mathematics achievement" by the year 2000, as called for in President Bush's fourth national education goal.
A 20-nation study released this week says that although the top 10 percent of students in the United States can compete with the top students from other countries, 90 percent of US students scored below international averages in both math and science.
The Second International Assessment of Educational Progress was jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education.
"While it is important to not turn such surveys into horse races and to be careful when comparing countries where the testing samples differ significantly, we can still see that American students are far behind their counterparts," says Gregory Anrig, president of Educational Testing Service, which administered the tests.
The US ranked close to the bottom in nearly every category of the study.
The survey involved nine-year-old and 13-year-old students from such countries as Korea, Hungary, Switzerland, Taiwan, Israel, and the former Soviet Union. Some key US trade competitors, such as Japan and Germany, declined to participate in the study.
In the mathematics category, 13-year-old students in only one country - Jordan - scored lower than the US. In science, 13-year-olds in Ireland and Jordan scored lower than US students. Korea, Taiwan, and Switzerland led the pack in both categories.