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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.

TIMMS8th

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.

TIMMS3

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.

TIMMS2

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.

Demographics

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

 

Equity

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.

Funding

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.






August 15, 2016

The Supply and Demand of Teacher Pay

We know that teachers are the most important school-level factor that contributes to student achievement.  And we’ve all heard that teacher pay is low.  But how low is it, exactly?  And does that really affect the supply of people entering the teaching profession?

First and foremost, teachers don’t teach for the money.  A recent Center on Education Policy survey found that only 1% of teachers listed “earning potential” as a significant factor for entering the teaching field, compared with 68% of teachers who said they taught to “make a difference in students’ lives.”  However, the number of high school graduates who are interested in a career in education has dropped since 2010 to only 5%, according to ACT, despite an anticipated increase in demand for new teachers.

If we want to attract the best and brightest minds into teaching, though, improved salaries might help.  Teacher salaries lag 23% below those of all college graduates, and 17% below those of similar individuals, when comparing weekly salaries (some of this difference is explained by the gender gap – over 80% of teachers are female).  Even when accounting for additional compensation, such as pensions and insurance, teacher salaries are 11% less than their peers.  This is significantly different from the 1970s, at which point teachers actually earned more than the average of their peers.

Wage Gap

Other countries with successful education systems treat their teachers as professionals.  A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures found that these countries recruit teachers from the best and brightest students, often provide free university-level training, and give teachers the autonomy to make decisions that lead to their students’ success.  Teachers have career ladders in which they can mentor novice teachers and take leadership roles.  Teachers in these systems often earn similar salaries as accountants and engineers.

Even if we don’t like to admit it, higher-earning professions are often more respected and revered.  While the cause and effect in this scenario may be muddled, we assume that doctors deserve the pay they receive because they are smart and well-educated.  Could we also assume that smart people enter the medical profession because they know they will be well-compensated and challenged in their professional life?  Sure, they also want to help people be healthy, but I haven’t heard that argument come up in discussing doctors’ wages.

Teaching is not all about the money, but Economics 101 should have taught us that the world often boils down to supply and demand.  If we want to increase the supply of high-quality teachers, we also have to increase their pay and respect.  We need a system in which our teachers are well-trained, competent professionals for which they are fairly compensated so that our students are provided with the educations they deserve.






December 17, 2014

Work smarter, not harder

Scrooge
Scrooge McDuck was fond of telling his nephews to work smarter, not harder. I immediately reflected back to this quote from my DuckTales watching days when I saw the latest data on how much time U.S. teenagers spend on homework compared to their peers in other countries. Some might expect the U.S. to be among the world leaders in homework while others might expect our teenagers to lag behind their peers in most other countries. Which group you fall into likely depends on your family’s income level since as The Atlantic points out students from higher-income families spend 1.6 more hours per week on homework than students from the other end of the family income scale.

On-average, however, U.S. teenagers spend a little more time on homework than their peers around the world — 6.1 hours per week on home compared to about 5 hours a week for the typical teenager around the globe. Yet, these averages hide the fact that the amount of homework varies significantly from country to country. What may surprise some is that the time spent on homework has almost no correlation to where countries rank on international assessments. For example, while teenagers in high performing Shanghai-China and Singapore were also at the top of the list for most homework per week (13.1), teenagers in the high performing countries of Finland and South Korea had the least amount of homework (2.8 and 2.9 hours per week respectively). Even in Japan students only spend 3.8 hours per week on homework, nearly two and half hours per week less than students in the U.S., yet Japan outperforms the U.S.

In isolation the homework data isn’t very useful at identifying any problems in our schools. But, when taken together with the fact that U.S. teachers teach more hours than teachers in other countries along with knowing that our students spend more time in school than students in most other countries the problem clearly is not a lack of hard work. As our Making Time videos points out, it is not about how much time students spend learning, it is how effectively that time is used and the data strongly indicates that time can be used more efficiently. How to do that is not exactly clear at this point, but the first step would be to examine how those countries that spend less time on learning and still outperform the U.S. to gain insights into some best practices as to how to use time more efficiently here in the U.S. The data is clear, for the U.S. to be among the world leaders in student achievement our schools need to work smarter, not harder.  – Jim Hull






July 17, 2014

School choice in Sweden isn’t working

Earlier this week, Slate ran this analysis of school choice in Sweden that should be required reading for everyone who makes public school policy in the U.S. as well as those who write about it. I encourage everyone to read it for themselves. But briefly, the author describes how Sweden came to adopt Milton Friedman’s free market ideas for school reform in the mid- to late-1900s and since then, the nation, once a leader among OECD countries on PISA, has witnessed its international standing plummet.

According to the article, the main reason for this decline is the failure of free market principles to translate to school improvement. In Sweden, competition led to artificial test score inflation among charter and traditional schools alike.  But even if policies could be put in place to better control for that, there remains the futility of applying for-profit practices to meet what is essentially — and vitally — a not-for-profit public mission.

The author is not a complete charter school opponent. Like CPE, he recognizes the value of innovative, successful charter schools as laboratories that can provide lessons traditional public schools can learn from.  At the same time, we do not see any evidence to argue for expanding charter school — or school choice in general — as a way to improve public education. Indeed, an absolute free market system for public schools poses greater risks to the effort to raise student performance across the board, as Sweden is apparently learning the hard way. — Patte Barth

 






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