U.S. Students Earn Average Scores in Global Study
In an international examination of math and science
skills, U.S. eighth-graders finished in the middle of the pack.
In the second part of the Third International Mathematics and Science
Study (TIMSS), researchers compared the work of half a million 12- and
13-year-olds from 41 countries. The report, Pursuing Excellence: A
Study of U.S. Eighth-Grade Mathematics and Science Teaching, Learning,
Curriculum and Achievement in International Context, shows that American
students tested above average in science and below average in mathematics.
Led by William H. Schmidt of Michigan State University, the TIMSS team
of analysts addressed questions of math and science education at two levels.
First, they compared the participating countries' eighth-grade math and
science curricula and teaching techniques (See Frontiers, February 1997).
Second, the team measured the math and science skills through achievement
tests, performance assessments, and in-depth surveys of student and teacher
attitudes, backgrounds, and experiences. The first assessment, a study
of eighth-graders, was released in November 1996. More grade-level studies
Schmidt says the results show that Americans didn't perform as poorly "as
some people might expect, but not as well as we can and should achieve. "
NSF Director Neal Lane adds that this level of achievement is not acceptable
in light of what the United States hopes to accomplish. "What the data
tell us is that, given the kinds of activities and learning that commonly
take place in most American classrooms, without substantial changes, the
United States is unlikely to achieve its national educational goal of
becoming first in the world in math and science. We simply cannot afford
to fail to meet that challenge. "
In a country-to-country comparison, U.S. scores were on a par with those
from Germany and the United Kingdom, while Japan scored significantly
higher in both fields.
The study, co-sponsored by NSF and the U.S. Department of Education,
also found significant differences in teaching styles and expectations.
Algebra and geometry are studied by most eighth-graders around the world,
but in the United States, the topics are studied mostly by the higher-level
classes. These classes encompass only about 13% of the eighth-graders.
U.S. math teachers show students how to solve problems. Japanese math
teachers help students understand math concepts.
Japanese teachers are more successful than U.S. teachers in implementing
reforms in mathematical curricula and teaching style.
A copy of this report is available on the World Wide Web: http://ustimss.msu.edu.