When the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) test scores came out last month, much was made of a slight improvement in U.S. test scores. Though there were marginal improvements in math at the fourth and eighth grade levels, and also in fourth grade science, there was a slight slip in eighth grade science scores since the test’s last administration in 2003. Overall scores for U.S. students have remained generally flat since 1995, representing below-average progress compared with other nations over the same period.
Compared to all 36 countries that took the math and science tests, fourth graders scored in the top third, on par with Lithuania and Germany in math, and with the Russian Federation and England in science. Countries outperforming the U.S. on both tests included Latvia, Slovenia, Chinese Taipei, and Japan.
When compared with the 16 countries classified as advanced economies by the International Monetary Fund, however, as Education Trust President Kati Haycock noted, “Our students’ performance falls squarely to the middle of the pack among those nations.” In fourth grade math, the U.S. ranked sixth, and in eighth grade they ranked seventh.
U.S. eighth grade scores in both math and science were in the top third of the 48 countries participating. In math, the U.S. scored on average with England, the Russian Federation, and Hungary. U.S. science scores were on par with Hungary and Hong Kong. Yet again in eighth grade, the U.S. was outperformed by countries that included Latvia, Slovenia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, and Japan.
U.S. test scores fell in those regions where there were increased numbers of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. Minority achievement gaps also remained prevalent. Whites and Asians constantly performed above average in each test. Hispanic scores, however, ranged from average to below average, while African-American students scored lower, and consistently below average. These gaps did improve slightly since the 2003 TIMSS test, representing at least one piece of good news.
A troubling development, however, was the drop in African-American test scores from the fourth to the eighth grade on the 2007 test – a 5.2% decrease in raw test scores in math, and a 6.8% drop from fourth to eighth grade in science.
Clearly, if the U.S. is to improve its international rankings on future TIMSS rounds, closing these minority achievement gaps in math and science will need to be a critical part of an overall strategy for improvement. Slight gains on overall test scores by U.S. students are a positive sign, but much more is required before the United States can truly be a world leader on TIMSS.
Find Archived Articles: