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.
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
Student feedback from surveys can be a very useful tool for school administration and policy makers. Recent reports from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation discovered that student feedback was a better predictor of a teachers’ performance than some traditional indicators. Now that we have evidence on the practical uses of student surveys, we can gain quite a bit of insight about what they are learning in school, and their attitudes.
A recent report from the Center for American Progress using national survey data shows that many students don’t feel that they are being challenged in school. Consider these results:
- 37 percent of fourth-graders say their math is too easy
- 72 percent of eighth grade science students say they aren’t being taught engineering and technology
- Among 12thgrade high school students
- 21 percent said their math was often or always too easy
- 56 percent and 55 percent respectively thought their civics and history classes were too easy
This data might only show that many students perceive their classes as being too easy. It certainly doesn’t prove anything about our classrooms. I do think though it is a useful counter to those who think we are making school too hard for students and consequently losing their interest in subjects like math or science. – Kasey Klepfer
I recently attended a briefing on Early Warning Indicator Systems (EWIS) in public schools. I find it fascinating that we can predict that a sixth grader has a 75 percent chance of dropping out of high school if they exhibit just one of these three factors:
- Poor behavior
- Poor attendance
- Failure in English or Math
Dropouts are not a problem relagated to high schools, as most future dropouts show warning signs as early as elementary and middle school. As the Center’s report Keeping Kids in School found, half of all dropouts showed warning signs by 8th grade. Now that we know this, we can target them with specialized help during transitional school years. If we wait until ninth grade, it could be too late to help, especially since a majority of dropouts leave in the ninth and tenth grades.
Three main problems have to be addressed when implementing these systems in schools. First, teachers need support. The way schools operate right now in many schools is that one teacher monitors a large group of students. For EWIS to work, this has to be flipped. A group of teachers and mentors have to discuss individual students. This can be time consuming, but some schools use outside help from mentor/volunteer programs like AmeriCorps to help understand the issues surrounding a student’s absenteeism or behavioral problems. The second problem is that in some schools, more professional social services will be needed. This can be costly, but the increased cost of more counselors, social workers, and other professionals will ultimately be returned in savings from preventing students from repeating grades or dropping out. Finally, the last problem with implementing these systems is integrating them throughout the school. Schools are organized by grades, or by subjects. To a student however, their school is the collection of teachers that they see every day. We need to organize schools so that teachers with the same students can communicate and create consistent behavior standards from classroom to classroom.
Every school should have consistent and open data on the amount of absenteeism in their schools. It may take some work, but research shows us how important it is for a student to be in school every day; not just in high school, but in elementary and middle school. - Kasey Klepfer
Earlier this week, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading for 4th and 8th graders.
Overall, there was little or no change from the 2009 scores. However, achievement at both levels has consistently been on the rise since 1992. During this same time period, the Black/White achievement gap narrowed at both the 4th and 8th grades. Although there has been some gains in reading over the past two decades, those gaisn pale in comparison to the the gains being made in math.
Fourth Grade State Level
- At the state level, public school students’ scale scores were higher in 2011 than 2009 in four states (Alabama, Hawaii, Maryland, and Massachusetts).
- Two states saw decreases in their scores (Missouri and South Dakota).
- The percent of students reaching the Proficient level in 2011 ranged from 19 percent in the District of Columbia to 50 percent in Massachusetts.
- Three states (Louisiana, Maryland, and Pennsylvania) significantly increased the percent of their public school students reaching the Proficient level from 2009 to 2011.
- Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia achieved the highest scale scores, while the District of Columbia, Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico earned the lowest scale scores.
- When it came to educating minority students, Black students who attended Department of Defense schools (DoDEA) scored higher than Black students in any other state or jurisdiction. DoDEA schools, along with Maryland, did the same for their Hispanic students.
Fourth Grade National Level
- Nationally, scores did not increase between 2009 and 2011. As a matter of fact, scores have remained unchanged since 2007.
- However, since the first year of NAEP in 1992, scale scores in reading have increased by nearly a half a year’s worth of learning (4 points).
- The percent of fourth-graders scoring at or above NAEP’s proficient level has increased slightly since 1992 (29 percent in 1992 vs. 34 percent in 2011).
- Moreover, the percent of fourth-graders scoring below NAEP’s basic level has decreased slightly from 38 percent in 1992 to 33 percent in 2011.
- Since 2009, achievement gaps have remained relatively unchanged, because there was no significant change in performance for White, Black, or Hispanic students.
- The Black/White achievement gap was 26 points while the Hispanic/White gap was 24 points.
- However, since 1992 the Black/White achievement gap has decreased from 32 points to 25 points, which has reduced the gap by about 20 percent.
Eighth Grade State Level
- At the eighth grade level, 10 states (Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, and Rhode Island) improved their scores from 2009 to 2011. No state had a decline in scores.
- Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey obtained the highest scores, followed by Vermont, Montana, New Hampshire, and DoDEA schools. On the other hand, Alabama, California, the District of Columbia and West Virginia lagged furthest behind.
- Just as in the fourth grade, eighth graders in DoDEA schools outperformed Black students in all other states/jurisdictions. DoDEA schools also had the highest-scoring Hispanic students.
Eighth Grade National Level
- Nationally, scores increased by one point from 2009 to 2011 and have increased by five points since 1992.
- The percent of students reaching NAEP’s proficient level has increased from 29 percent in 1992 to 34 percent in 2011. The percent scoring below NAEP’s basic level decreased from 31 percent to 24 during the same time period.
- As at the fourth grade level, the Black/White achievement gap remained statistically unchanged between 2009 and 2011, although Black students increased their score by three points.
- But between 1992 and 2011, the gap has narrowed by five points.
- On the other hand, the Hispanic/White narrowed by two points between 2009 and 2011 and by four points since 1992.
For more information on NAEP, check out the Center’s report The Proficiency Debate: A guide to NAEP achievement levels. – Jim Hull
NAEP Reading Report
More and more research shows that all students, no matter if they intend on going to college or straight into the workforce after high school, benefit from taking higher level math courses. It is therefore disheartening to see that 3,000 U.S. high schools don’t even offer Algebra 2, according to data released last week from Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.
An analysis of the data by the on-line newspaper ProPublica found that, although there was a link between race and advanced math course offerings, the link was strongest by income levels, meaning our poorest students had the least access to the advanced math courses. The analysis covers up the fact that our high schools have made tremendous strides in offering more rigorous courses, especially college level Advanced Placement courses, to our most disadvantaged students. But the data shows there is still more work to be done.
But just offering more rigorous courses is not that easy. It takes resources to hire quality teachers to effectively teach those higher level courses. And during this economic downturn many districts are having to lay off teachers, not hire more. Furthermore, getting students to take and succeed in higher level math courses starts before high school. Our schools enrolling our most disadvantaged students particularly need to be able to identify students in the middle grades who are not on-track to take Algebra 1 in the 9th grade and provide the supports to help them be ready. Again doing so takes additional resources which our schools simply do not currently have.
In order to fill this “opportunity gap” of course offerings, our districts need enough counselors to ensure students enter high school on-track to succeed in high-level courses. They also need resources to higher quality teachers to teach those subjects effectively. Yes, schools can just offer advanced math courses without additional resources. But doing so wouldn’t assure students’ success, while doing it right with the needed resources can have a tremendous positive impact on student outcomes. – Jim Hull
To find out what courses your school offers check out ProPublic’s search tool here.