How does your state compare to other countries?

Unless you live in Minnesota or Massachusetts, you have no idea. That’s because they were the only U.S. states to participate in the most recent round of international assessments. Both states took part in 2007 TIMSS, which assessed the math and science skills of 4th and 8th graders from over 40 countries and jurisdictions. What both states found out is that their students stacked up  favorably against students in the high performing countries in the world.

Massachusetts 4th graders outperformed their peers in math in all but two countries (Hong Kong and Singapore), including Japanese  4th graders. Minnesota 4th graders outperformed their peers in all countries but four (Hong Kong, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, & Japan). Each state also performed significantly above the U.S. average and well above the international average. These states know that they are preparing most of their students with the math skills they need to compete with students from almost any other country.

The TIMSS results came out almost two years ago, so why am I bringing this up now? Well, because the U.S. Dept of Education’s National Center for Educcation Statistics (NCES) just announced that every state will  be able to make such comparisons in 2012, which is when the 2011 TIMSS results will be released. Since each state will participate in the the national NAEP assesment in 2011, the year TIMSS will be administered, NCES will be able to statistically link each state’s NAEP score to TIMSS to make it possible to compare each state’s performance to other countries.

In this day and age of a global economy, such information is vital. States need to know if they are preparing their students to compete with their peers from around the world. Currently, there is the assumption that our schools are doing a poor job of preparing their students to compete in a global economy, since the U.S. as a whole doesn’t score at the top of international assessments. However, we are a big country, divided up into 50 different state education systems and divided even further into 15,000  school districts, so looking at the U.S. average performance is just a piece of the story. Knowing how each of the 50 states compares provides an even larger and more important piece.

As Massachusett and Minnesota showed in 2007, we have states (some larger than most TIMMS countries) that can compete with the highest performing nations. Unfortuantely, we don’t know how many states or which ones. But in 2012 that will  all change. We will see first-hand how each of our states compares internatioanlly and I’m sure the results will be a wake-up call for some states, while other states will see that their hard work has paid off. Knowing where states stand internationally won’t impact student achievement directly, but it is an important flashlight to find out exactly where any problems lie. — Jim Hull

For more information about these international assessments and how the U.S. performs, check out the Center’s More than a horse race: A guide to international tests of student achievement.

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