APS News

Mixed Results for U.S. Students in International Comparisons

The results of the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) were released on December 14, 2004. US students continue to score significantly above the international averages in both math and science. The results suggest that US eighth-graders have made strides in both subjects over the last eight years, but that US fourth-graders' performance has stagnated. In another international comparison, US 15-year-olds did not measure up to the international average in mathematics literacy and problem-solving skills.

The TIMSS assessments are carried out by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), and the first assessment was conducted in 1995. Follow-up studies are conducted every four years, providing an ongoing source of international comparison.

The 2003 assessment tested fourth- and eighth-graders in mathematics and science. More than 360,000 students in 49 countries participated in the 2003 study. Students from Singapore outperformed students from all other countries in both math and science, at both grade levels.

US eighth-graders scored better in both science and math than in previous assessments. Gains in math occurred primarily between 1995 and 1999, with the greatest gains in science occurring between 1999 and 2003.

In science, US fourth-graders were outperformed by their peers in five countries and regions. In math, fourth-graders from the US were outperformed by their peers in 11 countries and regions.

The 2003 assessment also found that, in almost all countries, higher parental education levels were associated with higher student achievement.

Another international comparison of students, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), showed US 15-year-olds performing below the international average of participating countries in an assessment of mathematical literacy and problem-solving.

Highlights of the TIMSS and PISA studies are available at http://nces.ed.gov.

Excerpted from FYI, The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News (http://aip.org/fyi/)

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette