Results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, released Tuesday, find that students in the U.S. surpassed the worldwide average in science and math achievement. However, eight countries or regions — including Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea — logged higher scores in eighth-grade math assessments than U.S. students, and nine countries outperformed the U.S. in science.
The most striking contrast comes in the 8th grade, where nearly half of all students tested in South Korea, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) reached the “advanced” level in math, compared with only 7 percent of American test-takers, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, for 2011.
“One obvious stark takeaway of some concern in a global environment is the huge gap that the Asian countries have achieved in mathematics,” said Ina V.S. Mullis, the co-executive director of the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College. “This is a gap that has its roots in 1995 [when TIMSS was first administered], and the gap has not narrowed over the years. And in some cases, such as [South] Korea, it’s even widening.”
The Russian Federation, Quebec, Hong Kong, and Japan also outscored the United States by statistically significant margins in grade 8 math.
In fact, Russia surpassed the United States in that category for the first time, thanks to an improvement in its score compared with four years earlier, while the U.S. average stayed about the same as in 2007.
In one notable twist that’s likely to spark debate, Finland, which drew international attention and acclaim two years ago based on its strong results on a different global assessment, did not produce the same standout results in math on TIMSS. Its 4th and 8th grade math scores were about the same as those of the United States, and several U.S. states participating in the exam—including Massachusetts and Minnesota—posted higher scores.
In all, 63 countries and 14 regional jurisdictions (including some individual U.S. states) participated in TIMSS 2011, which takes place every four years. Also today, new data from a high-profile global assessment of literacy was released. This report, Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, or PIRLS, is focused on 4th graders.
With results available for 4th and 8th grade math and science, U.S. students have improved by a statistically significant margin in just one category, 4th grade math, since 2007. The average score in the category rose by 12 points, to 541, on the TIMSS scale. (Scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. A score of 500 was the average for participating nations and education jurisdictions, excluding a small number of “benchmarking systems” whose scores were not factored into the average, such as the individual U.S. states that took part.)
The United States trailed seven nations and jurisdictions in 4th grade math: Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Northern Ireland, and Flemish Belgium. Among the more than 40 entities that the United States outpaced in the subject were Germany, Ireland, Hungary, and Australia.
As for science, some of the same countries topped the United States at both grade levels, including South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and Russia. In both grades 4 and 8, Finland outscored the United States; Slovenia also eclipsed the United States in grade 8.
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