TIMSS 12th-Grade Results Show Need to Build a Strong Foundation, Set Higher Standards, Require Tougher Courses, and Ensure Well-prepared and Effective Teachers
TIMSS Results Show Unacceptably Poor U.S. Performance. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) compared the mathematics and science achievement of a half-million students from 41 countries at 4th, 8th and 12th grade. Prior TIMSS reports showed that U.S. students performed relatively well at 4th grade -- above the international average in both mathematics and science, and in science outperformed only by Korea. U.S. students' relative standing declined by 8th grade, to only slightly above the international average in science and below the international average in mathematics. One reason is that while most students in grades 4-8 in other nations are studying the beginning concepts of algebra, geometry and other topics, U.S. students continue to be taught primarily arithmetic.
Today's release of 12th-grade results shows that U.S. students' standing relative to other TIMSS countries continues to decline in the high school years. A comparison of U.S. 12th graders' general mathematics and science knowledge to students in 20 other nations shows that our students scored below the international average in both topics and exceeded the performance of only two nations. A separate examination of advanced mathematics and physics comparing our students taking pre- calculus or calculus and our students taking physics with advanced mathematics and physics students in other nations shows that the performance of our advanced students is among the lowest of countries participating in TIMSS.
U.S. performance has improved over time in mathematics and science. Since the 1980's, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress as well as the SAT have risen. However, other nations have not been standing still. Thus our relative international standing has not improved despite our students' increasing achievement. The bottom line is that it appears that U.S. standards of achievement, testing and teaching in mathematics and science are far too low in middle and high schools.
Build a Strong Foundation in the Middle Grades: $60 million to improve mathematics achievement in the middle grades. The President's budget requests approximately $60 million for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to implement an Action Strategy to support local efforts to put in place the rigorous courses and effective teaching that will build a strong foundation in the middle school years. This joint initiative will provide high quality information and technical assistance to communities wishing to select and implement rigorous instructional materials based on challenging standards. It will promote improved mathematics teaching of elementary and middle school teachers by supporting teacher networks and effective teacher training models and materials that help teachers upgrade their content knowledge and learn how to teach for conceptual understanding while still ensuring mastery of the basics of computation. It will maximize existing federal resources via joint Education and NSF capacity-building grants to jumpstart efforts in 200-300 school districts to significantly improve the quality of mathematics instruction in the middle school years. And, it will promote public understanding of the importance of challenging middle school mathematics through a national effort to engage parents and communities.
Raise Standards and Measure Student Performance with a Voluntary National Test in Mathematics at 8th Grade. The TIMSS results demonstrate the need for a rigorous national benchmark that will reflect not only how a student's performance compares across states but also around the world. The standards of state assessments in 8th grade mathematics vary widely, and many of these 8th grade assessments are not as rigorous as the standards of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) according to a recent study by the Southern Regional Education Board. Moreover, recent international comparisons of science and mathematical examinations for college-bound students show that our SAT, ACT, and AP exams are much less rigorous than similar exams from other nations. This is why President Clinton has proposed a voluntary national test in mathematics at the eighth grade. The voluntary national test will be based on the rigorous content and performance standards in NAEP and linked to TIMSS. While TIMSS and NAEP provide a snapshot of the nation's performance, they assess only a sample of students: neither individual student nor school performance can be ascertained. The voluntary national test in mathematics, however, would let parents and teachers know how individual students and schools can improve in relation to rigorous national and international standards and whether students are adequately prepared to take demanding high school mathematics and science.
Offer a Challenging curriculum and encourage students to take tougher courses. TIMSS shows that what we teach and how we teach is what determines our students' achievement. Because decisions about curriculum and teaching are local ones, it rests primarily with local communities and states to ensure that students are getting a rigorous mathematics and science program taught by effective and well-trained teachers. Today, most students -- even most college- bound students -- do not take four years of high school mathematics and science. Ninety percent of all high school students stop taking mathematics before getting to calculus. Students should take demanding mathematics and science courses through high school such as physics and calculus -- and these courses must be rigorous.
Improve the Teaching of Mathematics and Science. How we teach is as important as what we teach. The TIMSS 8th grade study found that we teach mathematics differently than other nations: U.S. mathematics classes require students to engage in less high-level mathematical thought and solve fewer multistep problems than classes in Germany and Japan. In the nation's high schools, this is compounded by the fact that 28% of high school mathematics teachers and 55% of high school physics teachers neither majored nor minored in these subjects. States, districts, colleges and universities must get serious about teacher preparation, teacher certification, and ongoing professional development to ensure that students are taught by teachers who are prepared to teach challenging mathematics and science.
Additional Administration Initiatives that will Improve Mathematics and Science Achievement. Many of the President's education proposals in the FY99 budget will raise standards and achievement in mathematics and science. The budget requests $50 million for the Department of Education and $25 million for NSF to support a joint research program to learn how brain research, cognitive science and learning technology can lead to improved achievement in reading and mathematics. The President's $140 million High Hopes for College proposal would promote partnerships between colleges and middle or junior high schools in low-income communities to get and keep students on the track to college, including ensuring that students have access to the rigorous mathematics and science courses that prepare them for college. The President's proposal for Recruiting, Preparing, and Supporting Teachers includes $30 million for improving the preparation of future teachers, with emphasis on teachers of mathematics and reading. Furthermore, the President's $22 billion school modernization proposal will help upgrade mathematics and science classrooms and laboratories in many overcrowded and outdated schools.