WASHINGTON -- U.S. students have better access to computers than students in virtually all other industrialized countries, a new report says.
And girls in the United States say they're comfortable with technology more often than girls in other countries do, according to the report.
But it also suggests that the nation is divided into high and low achievers in a way several other nations are not.
Issued Tuesday by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the annual report says each school computer is shared, on average, by five students in the United States; in other OECD countries, the average is 13 students per computer.
Among 16 OECD countries with comparable data, U.S. 15-year-old girls are the most comfortable with computers -- 88 percent say they're comfortable or very comfortable, compared with 70 percent, on average, in other countries.
The report also says the United States is in the top tier on a list of 32 countries for its percentage of 15-year-olds with "top-level literacy skills" -- students who are among the best in the world at understanding complex texts, evaluating information and drawing on specialized knowledge. But the report warns that enough students are doing poorly in the United States that they bring the nation's level down considerably.
About 12 percent of U.S. 15-year-olds are "top-level," 2 percentage points more than the international average, the study said. Only six other countries have a higher percentage of top students: Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
If the number of low-performing 15-year-olds is added, though, the United States begins to look average.
About 6 percent of American students are "below basic," unable to do all but the most basic work. That's about the same as most other industrialized countries and puts the United States' achievement data squarely in the middle of the pack.
"It's only on average that you're doing average," said Barry McGaw, an Australian educational psychologist and OECD's director for education. He said well-financed suburban schools in the United States, for instance, are producing excellent students.
"At the top end, you're doing quite well," he said.
The study said countries such as Japan, Korea, Iceland and Finland have done a better job overcoming poor students' hardships. In those countries, poverty is less likely to accompany low school achievement.
It also found that U.S. teachers spend hundreds of hours more than the average in front of students each year than teachers in other countries.
This year's OECD "Education at a Glance" report also found that:
* Mid-career U.S. teachers, with an average $40,037 salary, rank eighth among 27 countries with comparable data, but the United States ranks 22nd when teacher salaries are compared to gross domestic product.
* Twenty-four percent of U.S. 15-year-olds said students don't listen to what the teacher says, average compared with other countries.
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