Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Good News and Bad News on International Comparisons

from the Harvard Educational Review

The good news is that data from the recently released 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show that U.S. 4th and 8th graders scored higher in math and science than the global average. In addition, according to the Progress in International Reading Study, U.S. students rank among the world's leaders in reading literacy. 
The bad news is that gains made in 4th grade are not sustained into 8th grade, where mathematics and science achievement failed to measurably improve between 2007 and 2011. Further, students in other countries are reaching advanced levels at rates seven times that of U.S. students.
The TIMSS tests were administered to students in 63 countries and 14 regions, including nine U.S. states that were able to submit large enough sample sizes to be included. Students in Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina excelled in international comparisons in several subjects. Massachusetts' 4th graders were outperformed only by Singapore in science, and Minnesota's 4th graders did better in science than all students but those in Singapore and Taiwan.
Although U.S. students trailed only seven nations and jurisdictions in 4th grade math scores, the achievement in math by East Asian countries continues to outpace the United States, increasing the international achievement gap, which has persisted since 1995. In a statement on the release of the data, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, "Given the vital role that science, technology, engineering, and math play in stimulating innovation and economic growth, it is particularly troubling that eighth-grade science achievement is stagnant and that students in Singapore and Korea are far more likely to perform at advanced levels in science than U.S. students."
For the first time, Russian students outperformed U.S. 8th grade students in math, but Finland's math scores dropped compared to their stunning performance in 2007 and came in lower than students in Massachusetts and Minnesota. Fifty-three percent of Finnish 8th graders reached either the "high" or "advanced" level in science, compared to only 40 percent of their peers in the United States.

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