I guess "the middle" covers a lot of terrain, but the way I look at the data, this assertion doesn't hold.
The international comparison in question is the 2009 PISA. Here are the rankings. (Click for larger image)
That's why the article specifies the ranking of the US among "developed countries," and by the author's reckoning, kids from 12 developed countries scored better, and kids from 9 developed countries scored worse. That would put US kids at the 41st percentile.
The US is ranked 30th on the list. Just eyeballing it, it's hard to see how 17 of the countries scoring better could be considered "not developed."
On measures of "developed" status would be the International Monetary Fund's definition of "advanced economies" which includes: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States (Click image for larger image
It's true that "near the bottom" is too grim an assessment. But I can't see a way to put the 2009 PISA data together such that American kids are scoring about average.