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December 11, 2012

U.S. 4th graders make great gains in math and reading

U.S. 4th graders catapulted into the Top 5 on the international reading rankings by making greater gains than any other country between 2006 and 2011. The U.S. also made significant gains in 4th grade math scores but only moved up one spot in the international rankings. Unfortunately, similar progress was not made in 8th grade math or science at either the 4th or 8th grades according to two new NCES reports on international assessments, Highlights from TIMSS 2011 and Highlights from PIRLS 2011.

These latest reports on international comparison shows that the U.S. is heading in the right direction in reading, math, and science but still has a way to go to catch up to high performing Asian counterparts. While students in Asian countries significantly outperform the students in the U.S. as a whole, students in such states as Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Florida rank among the world leaders. Furthermore, Asian students in the U.S. perform nearly as well as students in high performing Asian countries while our black students only perform as well as students in the lowest performing countries. This indicates that it is possible for our public schools to rank among the world leaders if all schools were given the resources needed to provide all students a high quality public education.

Summary of the result provided below.

PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study): Assessed the reading ability of 4th graders in 53 countries. PIRLS has been given every 5 years since 2001.

TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study): Assessed the math and science knowledge of 4th and 8th graders in 57 countries at the 4th grade level and 56 countries in 8th grade. TIMSS has been given every four years since 1995.                                                                 

 

The findings

Fourth Grade Reading

  • On PIRLS, just 4 countries outperformed the U.S. in 2011. U.S students (556) outperformed the likes of Canada, Italy, Germany, and Norway. In 2006, the U.S. was outperformed by 10 countries.
  • Between 2006 and 2011 the U.S. score increased 16 points. Such increase was the third largest during this time period.
  • Only Singapore (24 percent) had a significantly higher proportion of 4th graders reach the Advanced achievement level in reading than the U.S. (17 percent).
  • No country outperformed Florida (569) fourth graders in 2011. Florida’s score was not significantly different from world leaders Hong Kong (571), Russia (568), Finland (568), and Singapore (567) but higher than every other participating country.

Fourth Grade Mathematics

  • On TIMSS, U.S. fourth graders (541) performed above the international average (500) and performed as well as or better than all but 7 participating countries in 2011, an improvement from 2007 and 2003 when the U.S. was outperformed by 8 and 11 countries respectively.
  • U.S. scores have risen 12 points since 2007 and a total of 23 points since 1995. Just 7 countries have made greater gains since 2007 and 5 since 1995
  • North Carolina (554) was outperformed by only 5 countries while Florida (545) was outperformed by just 6 countries.

Eighth Grade Mathematics

  • At the eighth grade level, U.S. students performed (509) above the international average (500). Just 6 countries scored significantly higher than the U.S. In 2007 and 2003 the U.S. was outperformed by 5 and 9 countries respectively. 
  • U.S. scores have risen 17 points since 1995. Only 3 countries made greater gains during this time period. The U.S. made greater gains than such high performing countries as Singapore (2 points) and Japan (-11). The U.S. did not make any significant gains between 2007 and 2011.
  • U.S. states score among the world’s best and worst. Massachusetts (561) scored among the world leaders and similar to Japan (570). While Alabama (466) scored below the international average and similarly to Armenia.
    • Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana all scored above the international average while Alabama and California scored below.

Fourth Grade Science

  • On TIMSS, U.S. students performed (544) above the international average (500) and performed as well or better than all but 6 countries in 2011. In 2007 and 2003 the U.S. were outperformed by 4 and 3 countries respectively.
  • U.S. scores have remained relatively unchanged since 2007 and 1995.
  • Fifteen percent of U.S. students scored at the Advanced achievement level. Only three other countries had a greater percentage.
  • Both Florida (545) and North Carolina (538) performed similarly to the U.S. average.

Eighth Grade Science

  • At the eighth grade level, the U.S. (525) performed above the international average (500) and performed as well or better than all but 8 countries as was the case in 2007. In 2003 U.S. students were outperformed by 7 countries.
  • Although U.S. scores increased 5 points since 2007, the increase was not statistically significant. The U.S. has gained 12 points since 1995. Only 5 countries made greater gains during this time period.
  • As in math, U.S. states scored among the world’s best and worst. Massachusetts (567) was only outperformed by the global leader Singapore (590) and Minnesota (553) performed similarly to Finland (552). While Alabama (485) scored below the international average and similarly to Turkey (483).
    • Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana all scored above the international average while California scored similar to the international average and Alabama scored below.

Additional information about how the U.S. compares internationally

More than a horse race: A guide to international assessments 
Time in School: How the U.S. compares
Getting Back to the Top: An international comparison of college attainment






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