WASHINGTON - American teenagers aren't doing as poorly on international science tests as adults think. Despite the misconception, people don't think the subject should get greater emphasis in schools, a survey released Monday found.
More Americans than not wrongly think that U.S. 15-year-olds rank near the bottom on international science tests, according to a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll. U.S. students actually rank in the middle among developed countries.
Even so, Americans are more likely to pick math or language skills over science when they are asked which subject they think deserves greater attention.
Education advocates have long warned that U.S. students need more science education if they are to keep pace with international peers. That perhaps has yielded the impression that the nation's students don't stack up to other nations on international tests.
About 35 percent of those surveyed by Pew correctly said U.S. 15-year-olds are about in the middle and 7 percent incorrectly said Americans ranked among the top nations. Yet the plurality - 44 percent - wrongly said American teens were ranked at the bottom of other developed nations.
International tests find U.S. scores aren't measurably different from the average of all other nations. Among the 33 countries measured in the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, 12 had higher scores and nine had lower scores. Another 12 had scores that weren't that much different than Americans' scores.
The survey also asked participants an open-ended question about which single subject they thought deserved greater emphasis in elementary and secondary schools. Some 30 percent suggested math and arithmetic. Another 19 percent said English, grammar, writing and reading.
Science was the top choice for just 11 percent of participants.
Americans with college degrees were more likely than others to underestimate the students' international rankings. Those college graduates were also more likely to answer their own questions about science and technology correctly.