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December 12, 2016

U.S. Students have Strong Showing on International Math Assessment

We recently released an analysis of PISA scores, which showed disparities in achievement across student groups and mostly stagnant scores.  However, the U.S. had a better showing on another international benchmark, the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study).  TIMSS is different from PISA in that it assesses more classroom-based content, whereas PISA is more of an assessment of how students can apply skills learned in the classroom to real-world problems.  TIMSS assesses 4th and 8th graders, while PISA assesses 15 year olds, regardless of grade.

In 2015, TIMSS assessed 49 countries in 4th grade math, 47 countries in 4th grade science, and 39 countries in 8th grade math and science.

Students were assessed in math and science, but today we’ll just take a look at the math scores.

4th Grade Math

U.S. 4th graders scored 14th out of 49 countries, with performance that was statistically lower than only 10 countries and similar to eight countries, including Finland.  They also scored 10th highest in the number of students who scored at the advanced level (levels are low, intermediate, high, and advanced).  The percentage of students reaching high or advanced levels have increased steadily since the test was first administered in 1995.  Students showed greater strength in numerical functions, but had deficits in geometric shapes and measures.  They also scored higher in knowledge-based questions than items based on the application of knowledge to a problem and reasoning.TIMMS4th

8th Grade Math

U.S. 8th graders were 10th out of 39 countries, with seven countries having statistically higher scores and nine countries having similar scores.  Eighth graders also had the 10th highest number of students who scored at the advanced level, which has been steadily increasing since 1995.  Students were significantly stronger in Algebra than they were in 2007 or 2011.  Similar to 4th graders, 8th grade students were stronger at knowledge-based questions than application or reasoning questions, despite showing improvement in all three categories since 2007.


Demographic Factors

Schools with fewer students from affluent families and more students from disadvantaged families performed at lower levels than more affluent schools, showing that the U.S. still has much work to do to achieve academic equity.  Note that demographic data is reported by principals.


Schools with more native English speakers perform better than schools with greater numbers of students learning English in both 4th and 8th grades.  Schools with teacher-reported lack of resources and problems with school conditions also fared worse.  Students who felt that they fit in, or belonged, at school had higher achievement.

Other Contributing Factors

The U.S. is in the bottom half of countries on measures of teacher satisfaction.  Higher levels of teacher satisfaction in their schools is mildly correlated with higher student performance.  Teachers who reported having greater challenges, such as large classes or administrative tasks, actually had higher student achievement than those who reported few challenges.

International Data

Gender gaps still tend to favor boys across the globe, though in some countries girls outperform boys.  Interestingly, 8th grade girls in 21 countries outperformed boys in Algebra, though boys outperformed girls in number-based problems in 17 countries.

TIMMS1Source: http://timss2015.org/timss-2015/mathematics/achievement-in-content-and-cognitive-domains/

As debate continues about early childhood education in the U.S., the data from other countries is quite convincing that students who have formal education before entering the K-12 system outperform those who do not.  This data does not include the U.S.


Source: http://timss2015.org/timss-2015/mathematics/home-environment-support/

We still have work to do, but TIMSS shows us that improvement has been slow and steady for U.S. students.

Filed under: Assessments,CPE,International Comparisons,TIMSS — Tags: , , — Chandi Wagner @ 4:07 pm

December 7, 2016

PISA scores remain stagnant for U.S. students

The results of the latest PISA or the Program for International Student Assessment are in and as usual, we have an interpretation of the highlights for you.

If you recall, PISA is designed to assess not just students’ academic knowledge but their application of that knowledge and is administered to 15-year-olds across the globe every three years by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in coordination with the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Each iteration of the PISA has a different focus and the 2015 version honed in on science, though it also tested math and reading proficiency among the roughly half-million teens who participated in this round. So, how did American students stack up?

In short, our performance was average in reading and science and below average in math, compared to the 35 other OECD member countries.  Specifically, the U.S. ranked 19th in science, 20th in reading and 31st in math. But PISA was administered in countries beyond OECD members and among that total group of 70 countries and education systems (some regions of China are assessed as separate systems), U.S. teens ranked 25th in science, 22nd in reading, and 40th in math.  Since 2012, scores were basically the same in science and reading, but dropped 11 points in math.

PISA Science

Before you get too upset over our less-than-stellar performance, though, there are a few things to take into account.  First, scores overall have fluctuated in all three subjects.  Some of the top performers such as South Korea and Finland have seen 20-30 point drops in math test scores from 2003 to 2015 at the same time that the U.S. saw a 13 point drop.  Are half of the countries really declining in performance, or could it be a change in the test, or a change in how the test corresponds with what and how material is taught in schools?

Second, the U.S. has seen a large set of reforms over the last several years, which have disrupted the education system.  Like many systems, a disruption may cause a temporary drop in performance, but eventually stabilize.  Many teachers are still adjusting to teaching the Common Core Standards and/or Next Generation Science Standards; the 2008 recession caused shocks in funding levels that we’re still recovering from; many school systems received waivers from No Child Left Behind which substantially change state- and school-level policies.  And, in case you want to blame Common Core for lower math scores, keep in mind that not all test-takers live in states that have adopted the Common Core, and even if they do, some have only learned under the new standards for a year or two.  Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA test for the OECD, predicts that the Common Core Standards will eventually yield positive results for the U.S., but that we must be patient.


Student scores are correlated to some degree with student poverty and the concentration of poverty in some schools.  Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are 2.5 times more likely to perform poorly than advantaged students.  Schools with fewer than 25 percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch (about half of all students nationwide are eligible) would be 2nd in science, 1st in reading, and 11th in math out of all 70 countries.  At the other end of the spectrum, schools with at least 75 percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, 44th in science, 42nd in reading, and 47th in math.  Compared only to OECD countries, high-poverty schools would only beat four countries in science, four countries in reading, and five in math.

Score differences for different races in the U.S. show similar disparities.

How individual student groups would rank compared to the 70 education systems tested:

Science Reading Math
White 5th 4th 20th
Black 49th 44th 51st
Hispanic 40th 37th 44th
Asian 8th 2nd 20th
Mixed Race 19th 20th 38th



Despite the disparities in opportunity for low-income students, the number of low-income students who performed better than expected increased by 12 percentage points since 2006, to 32 percent.  The amount of variation attributable to poverty decreased from 17 percent in 2006 to 11 percent in 2015, meaning that poverty became less of a determining factor in how a student performed.


America is one of the largest spenders on education, as we should be, given our high per capita income.  Many have bemoaned that we should be outscoring other nations based on our higher spending levels, but the reality is that high levels of childhood poverty and inequitable spending often counteract the amount of money put into the system.  For more info on this, see our previous blogpost.

October 28, 2016

NAEP science scores reveal progress at lower grades, stagnation at 12th-grade

The National Assessment Governing Board released its 2015 Science scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress for fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders.  The results were positive overall, with achievement gaps narrowing and scores improving for almost all student groups in fourth and eighth-grade students.  Twelfth-grade scores remained stagnant across all groups.

The tests assess students’ ability to identify and use science principles, use scientific inquiry, and use technological design in physical science, life science, and Earth and space science.  Student responses are a combination of written (including multiple choice and open-ended questions) and interactive computer and hands-on tasks.

Of great concern, however, are the persistent gaps between students of different races, genders, and education status (English Learners and Special Education students).  While these gaps are narrowing, we have to figure out how to provide greater opportunities to all students.




Some states are improving at faster rates than others (only noted if the state had a statistically significant change):


Source: www.nationsreportcard.gov


It seems that the gains made in fourth and eighth-grade scores erode by 12th-grade.  Some of this may be due to lack of access to engaging classes and curriculum that could draw students into STEM fields.


Source: http://www.amgeninspires.com/students-on-stem/

2015 NAEP Science scores show similar trends as math and reading tests, which emphasizes the question: How do we move the needle for 12th-graders, as well as continue to improve opportunities and achievement for all students?

August 19, 2016

Too many tests in your district? You may need Assessment 101

2016-08-18_16-45-43Across the country, educators, parents, and students are expressing concerns about the amount of tests being administered in schools. To address this, we partnered with the education non-profit, Achieve, to support school board members and their districts in moving toward more coherent and streamlined assessment systems.

Recognizing the critical role school boards play in influencing systemic changes at the local level, CPE co-authored a training module for school boards based on Achieve’s student assessment inventory tool.

While the suite of resources is currently available for free here and here, CPE will continue its involvement by facilitating in-person and online training of the Assessment 101 process to participating school districts in three partner states, with the hope that these will lead to measurable reductions in testing there and in other districts who learn from and adopt this approach.

April 28, 2016

12th graders’ math scores drop, reading flatlines

And just when we had allowed ourselves to get giddy over record-shattering high school graduation rates.

NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report card, released the results of its 2015 assessment of high school seniors’ math and reading proficiency. Like their 4th and 8th grade schoolmates, whose 2015 scores were published last fall, the nation’s 12th-graders either made no progress or dropped a few points, especially in mathematics. Worse, scores for the lowest performers fell the most in both subjects.

Let’s start with reading. The overall score was 1 point lower on the NAEP scale from two years ago, which is not a statistically significant change. However, 12th graders are performing 5 points lower compared to their peers in 1992, the first year the main-NAEP reading assessment was administered.

There was no noticeable change since 2013 in the scores of any racial/ethnic group, or in the achievement gaps between them.

Indeed, the biggest change was at the bottom. In just the last two years, the proportion of students who did not even read at the basic level grew, from 25 to 28 percent.  What this means in more tangible terms is that this group of soon-to-be-graduates cannot recognize the main purpose of expository text; cannot recognize the main purpose of an argument; and cannot explain a character’s action from a story description.

The math picture isn’t any rosier. The overall math score fell a significant 3 points on the NAEP scale. While this is still 2 points higher than in 2005 – the first administration of the test’s new math framework – it does represent a reversal after years of steady gains. As with reading, the math scores were relatively flat for every racial/ethnic group compared to 2013. One happy exception: scores for English language learners rose by 4 points.

Math also saw an increase of the wrong kind. A whopping 38 percent of high school seniors did not perform at the basic level in 2015, an increase of 3 points over 2013. This is troubling on its own merits. It is truly baffling when considering that 90 percent of seniors reported having taken Algebra II or a higher math course in high school.  We should see this group of low performers shrinking, not growing larger.

Of high interest to education policymakers and parents is the degree to which 12th graders are prepared for college work. Beginning in 2008, the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP, commissioned several studies linking NAEP performance levels to college readiness. Based on the analysis, just slightly more than a third of seniors in 2015 scored at a level showing they had the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in freshmen courses. But ready or not, two-thirds of them will be bound for two- and four-year colleges the October following graduation.

Why is this happening? Many advocates have been quick to point to policies like Common Core, too much testing, not enough testing, or whatever other bee sticks in their bonnets. But as I have written elsewhere, there is not enough information at this point to lay the blame on any one of these, although they surely warrant watching. Likewise, some observers have noted the increase in childhood poverty, which also deserves attention.

I think another explanation might be found in one of our great successes. High school graduation rates have exploded in just the last 10 years. In 2013, 81 percent of all high school students graduated within four years. We know from research that failing grades are high risk factors for students. Up until recently, these low performers would have dropped out before showing up in the NAEP data as seniors. The fact that they are still in school is a good thing, but it may also be dragging 12th grade scores down.

The truth is, it’s too soon for us to know for sure why this happened. But there are enough questions that schools should be examining to get us back on the right track.

  • Do the high-level courses students are taking in larger numbers actually represent high-level content?
  • Do schools have enough counselors and other trained professionals to not just make sure students stay in school, but have the support they need to perform academically?
  • Are teachers also supported as they implement higher standards in their classrooms?
  • Finally, are federal, state and local policymakers providing the resources high schools need to assure every student graduates ready to succeed in college, careers and life?
Filed under: Assessments,CPE,High school,NAEP,Reading,Testing — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 10:52 am

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