The results of the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science
Study (TIMSS) were released on December 14, 2004. U.S. students continue
to score significantly above the international averages in both math
and science. The results suggest that U.S. eighth-graders have made
strides in both subjects over the last eight years, but that U.S. fourth-graders'
performance has stagnated. In another international comparison, U.S.
15-year-olds did not measure up to the international average in mathematics
literacy and problem-solving skills.
The TIMSS assessments are carried out by the International Association
for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) (http://www.iea.nl/iea/hq/),
and the first assessment was conducted in 1995. Follow-up studies are
conducted every four years, providing an ongoing source of international
comparison. The 2003 assessment tested fourth- and eighth-graders in
mathematics and science. More than 360,000 students in 49 countries
participated in the 2003 study. Students from Singapore outperformed
students from all other countries in both math and science, at both
Forty-five countries participated in the assessments at the eighth-grade
The results indicate that U.S. eighth-graders scored better in both
science and math than in previous assessments. Gains in math occurred
primarily between 1995 and 1999, with the greatest gains in science
occurring between 1999 and 2003. The results also suggest that, since
1995, U.S. eighth-graders have improved their performance in science
and math relative to eighth-graders in the other participating countries.
In science, U.S. eighth-graders were outperformed by eighth-grade students
in the following eight countries: Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Republic
of Korea, Hong Kong SAR, Estonia, Japan, Hungary, and Netherlands.
In math, U.S. eighth-graders were outperformed by their peers in 14
countries: Singapore, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong SAR, Chinese Taipei,
Japan, Belgium, Netherlands, Estonia, Hungary, Malaysia, Latvia, Russian
Federation, Slovak Republic, and Australia.
Internationally, at the eighth-grade level, gender differences were
negligible in math. In science, boys in most countries scored significantly
higher than girls, although girls on the whole showed greater improvement
since the last TIMSS assessment. Boys generally performed better in
physics and earth science, while girls generally scored higher in life
Twenty-five countries participated in the fourth-grade assessments.
There was no significant change in either the science or math performance
of U.S. fourth-graders between 1995 and 2003, and the data indicate
that their scores in 2003 were lower than in 1995 relative to students
in other participating countries.
In science, U.S. fourth-graders were outperformed by their peers in
five countries: Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Hong Kong SAR, and
In math, fourth-graders from the U.S. were outperformed by their peers
in 11 countries: Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Belgium,
Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Russian Federation, England, and Hungary.
Internationally, gender differences among students at the fourth-grade
level were negligible in both science and math.
The 2003 assessment also found that, in almost all countries, higher
parental education levels were associated with higher student achievement.
In general, high student achievement was also positively associated
with speaking the language of the test at home, the number of books
in the home, computer use, school safety, and low numbers of economically-disadvantaged
students in a school.
PROGRAM FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ASSESSMENT
Another international comparison of students showed U.S. 15-year-olds
performing below the international average of participating countries
in an assessment of mathematical literacy and problem-solving. The Program
for International Student Assessment (PISA) is organized under the auspices
of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
Students from both OECD and non-OECD nations participated in the PISA
study, which assesses reading literacy, math literacy, science literacy,
and skills such as problem-solving every three years. One or more subject
areas are chosen each time for in-depth measurement, with mathematics
literacy and problem-solving targeted in the 2003 assessment.
The 2003 PISA results were released on December 6. Of the 41 nations
that participated in this assessment, U.S. 15-year-olds were outperformed
by students in 23 other nations in math literacy, and by students in
25 other nations in problem-solving. Students from the U.S. scored below
the average for OECD countries on each component of math literacy (space
and shape, change and relationships, quantity, and uncertainty). They
performed at the OECD average in reading literacy and below the OECD
average in science literacy. In math literacy, boys outperformed girls
in the U.S. and in two-thirds of the participating nations. However,
there was no significant gender difference in problem-solving.
"The PISA results are a blinking warning light," Education
Secretary Rod Paige said in a press release. "It's more evidence
that high standards and accountability for results are a good idea for
all schools at all grade levels."
Highlights of the TIMSS and PISA studies are available at http://nces.ed.gov.