US Teenagers Are Smarter Than What Most American Adults Give Them Credit For
April 23, 2013

US Teenagers Are Smarter Are Smarter Than You Think

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A new Pew Research Center poll conducted from March 7 to 10, 2013 has found that American adults tend to underestimate US teenagers when it comes to academic performance.

Using landline and cellular telephone interviews of 1,006 adults, the poll found that 44 percent of Americans believe their country´s teenagers perform worse than kids from other developed countries on standardized science tests. However, the reality is that American teens score about average when compared to their international colleagues, according to a nationally-run science and tech quiz.

Despite these predominant perceptions of teens with respect to science — Americans tended to report that math or language skills need more emphasis in schools. Interestingly, 46 percent of respondents said young people don´t pursue careers in science because it is too difficult.

Of those surveyed, 35 percent correctly said that US teens perform on-par with other countries when it comes to science. According to results from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that included 33 developed countries, the United States ranked lower than twelve other countries, higher than 9 other countries and the same as the remaining 12 countries.

One part of the survey asked respondents an open-ended question about which subject they thought needs greater accenting in elementary and secondary schools. Math and arithmetic ranked the highest at 30 percent; 19 percent said English, grammar, writing and reading. Only 11 percent said science needs more emphasis.

The study found a partisan divide among respondents who picked science. Approximately 17 percent of Democrats said science should get more attention in schools, while 7 percent of Republicans agreed.

Self-identified Republicans were more likely to favor math and arithmetic than Democrats. About 35 percent of those who align themselves with the GOP picked math skills as the subject that needs more emphasis, while 24 percent of Democrats agreed.

The different political party members also disagreed on how much extra emphasis history or social studies needed, with 13 percent of Republicans and 5 percent of Democrats saying that that these subjects need more attention from educators.

A second part of the survey, which asked respondents multiple choice questions on general science knowledge, revealed other telling insights into Americans attitudes. American college graduates were more likely than others to underrate US students' international rankings; however, these folks were more likely to answer the general science questions correctly.

In the science knowledge section of the poll, 83 percent correctly said that sunscreen protects against harmful ultraviolet radiation, while 77 percent know that the overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Men tended to outperform women on the quiz, answering an average of 8.6 items correctly — compared to a 7.7 average for women. However, on health related quiz questions — women outperformed their male counterparts. For example, women were more likely to know the primary danger associated with the overuse of antibiotics.

Gender differences also revealed themselves with respect to saying why more young people don´t pursue a career in the sciences. Women were more likely than men to say subject difficulty is the main reason, 54 percent to 37 percent, respectively.