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ASIAN NATIONS DOMINATE STUDENT ASSESSMENT
 
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Teens from Asian nations dominated a global exam given to 15-year-olds, while U.S. students showed little improvement and failed to reach the top 20 in math, science or reading, according to test results released Tuesday.
 
American students scored below the international average in math and about average in science and reading.
 
The top average scores in each subject came from Shanghai, China's largest city with more than 20 million people. Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong were among the participants with students scoring at the top on average in each subject. Vietnam, which had its students participate for the first time, had a higher average score in math and science than the United States.
 
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the results a "picture of educational stagnation."
 
"We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators," Duncan said.
 
Shanghai students also topped the PISA test in 2009. Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the school system in Shanghai is not equitable and the students tested are children of the elite because they are the ones allowed to attend municipal schools because of restrictions such as those that keep many migrant children out.
 
"The Shanghai scores frankly to me are difficult to interpret," Loveless said. "They are almost meaningless."
 
UPDATED HEALTHCARE.GOV GETS MIXED REVIEWS
 
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- Counselors helping people use the federal government's online health exchange are giving mixed reviews to the updated site, with some zipping through the application process while others are facing the same old sputters and even crashes.
 
The Obama administration had promised a vastly improved shopping experience on healthcare.gov by the end of November, and Monday was the first business day since the date passed.
 
Brokers and online assisters in Utah say three of every four people successfully signed up for health coverage on the online within an hour of logging in. A state official overseeing North Dakota's navigators said he had noticed improvements in the site, as did organizations helping people sign up in parts of Alabama and Wisconsin.
 
But staffers at an organization in South Florida and a hospital group with locations in Iowa and Illinois said they have seen no major improvements from the federal website, which 36 states are relying on.
 
About 750,000 had visited the site by Monday night - about double the traffic for a typical Monday, according to figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
 
Roberta Vann, a certified application counselor at the Hamilton Health Center, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said the site worked well for her Monday morning but she became frustrated later when the site went down.

 
GIFT GUIDE: PLENTY OF LAPTOPS, EVEN ON BUDGETS
 
NEW YORK (AP) -- There's no shortage of laptop computers to pick from this holiday season, even for shoppers on tight budgets. A Chromebook optimized to run Google's Internet services can be bought for as little as $200, while a few hundred dollars more gets you a laptop that's not so dependent on having a continuous online connection.
 
Although smartphones and tablet computers get much of the attention these days, laptops are still more desirable for people who do a lot of typing or other heavy-duty tasks such as photo editing.
 
For most people, price tops the list of factors to consider when choosing a new laptop. You also have to consider processing speeds, storage and battery needs and figure out how much weight the person you're shopping for will be willing to cart around.
 
And then there's the operating system.
 
Are you shopping for someone who prefers Windows 8? If that's the case, you'll probably want to spring for a touch-screen model. You might even consider a two-in-one, which can switch back and forth between a laptop and a tablet. There are also Windows tablets with attachable keyboards to make them perform much like laptops.
 
Choices are more limited for fans of Macs or Google's Chrome system, but the choices that are available are good ones.
 
This gift guide covers budget and mid-priced laptops with starting prices of less than $1,000. If you're willing to spend more, you can get laptops that are lighter and more powerful. We'll cover those later. Keep in mind that you can often shop around for prices that beat the manufacturers' suggested prices.
 
Click to read more.
 

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