Fair warning! I am about to vent. Too often, when I have talked with district and school administrators about the need for helping students improve in math I hear “I know. But we’re focusing on reading now.” We have been focusing on reading for decades. Progress has been made. Yes, there is still more to do but it is time, past time, to put a nationwide focus on math.

Every three years PISA (Programme for International Assessment) tests the skills and knowledge of 15 year old students in 72 countries and economies. Their 2015 report was just released. Before, I share those findings here is a little background. The following is taken directly from the 2012 PISA report:

“Among the 34 OECD countries, the United States performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 27th (this is the best estimate, although the rank could be between 23 and 29 due to sampling and measurement error). Performance in reading and science are both close to the OECD average. The United States ranks 17 in reading, (range of ranks: 14 to 20) and 20 in science (range of ranks: 17 to 25). There has been no significant change in these performances over time.”

The 2015 assessments were again made in reading, math and science. Guess what? U.S. students scored slightly above average in reading and science. However, they remained well below average in math!

For far too long U.S. students have ranked below those of countries like Russia, China, Australia, Canada and the UK. For a quick look at 2015 worldwide results check the graphic at https://www.oecd.org/pisa/data/

For those who care to dig a little deeper, the chart below provides the trend in mathematics performance for these countries. It is hard to look at it and not feel overwhelmingly frustrated.

What is the answer? FOCUS. Focus on the students that need help. That means giving them the extra time they need to improve. Focus on what they don’t know so that they can catch up quickly. Our study of Math Skill Gaps shows that 95% of seventh grade students identified for intervention have skill gaps more than one grade level below their current grade. Skill gaps are scattered and it is rare for any two students at this stage to have exactly the same needs.

If we can focus on the individual needs of each math student starting now, I believe the next PISA will show U.S. students well ahead of the curve.