TIMSS is the largest international study of student achievement ever undertaken, with more than 500,000 students in 45 countries tested at five grade levels.

In physics, the United States was last with a score of 423, well below the international average of 501. Norway led the rankings with a score of 581.

Percent who are aware that the U.S. 12th graders rank near the bottom
on international science tests = 7%



Study Finds US High School Seniors Lag in Math and Science

(2-24-98) -- A major study conducted by Boston College researchers shows Europeans are the world's best mathematics and physics students at the high school level, and that their American counterparts perform well below the international average in both subjects.

These were among the latest findings of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, which were released at a press conference today at Conte Forum. TIMSS is the largest international study of student achievement ever undertaken, with more than 500,000 students in 45 countries tested at five grade levels. The newest set of results is taken from surveys of students in their final year of secondary school which measured mathematics and science literacy, as well as skill levels in physics and advanced mathematics.

According to the report, students in the Netherlands and Sweden fared best in overall mathematics and science literacy; French students performed highest in advanced mathematics; and those in Norway and Sweden led in physics. American high school seniors, meanwhile, showed a sharp drop-off in math and science skills after elementary school.

But researchers cautioned against jumping to hasty conclusions based on the TIMSS data.

"We did not find simple relationships between student performance and school variables such as the amount of homework or the amount of time spent in mathematics and physics classes," said Prof. Albert Beaton (SOE), director of the study. "The TIMSS data underscore the important point that there are no simple answers to complex questions, such as, 'How can schools improve educational achievement?'"

The study was sponsored by the Amsterdam-based International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), an independent international cooperative of research centers. The TIMSS International Study Center, located at Boston College, managed the study on the international level.

Researchers had previously examined math and science achievement by middle and elementary schoolers across the world, releasing results in November 1996 for 41 countries at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels, which rated Singapore as highest-performing; and in June 1997 for 26 countries at the third- and fourth-grade levels, which were led by Singapore and South Korea.

In the newly released survey, the United States received a score of 471 in mathematics and science literacy, well below the international average of 500. Scoring below the United States were Lithuania, Cyprus and South Africa. Finishing atop the rankings were the Netherlands (559) and Sweden (555). Also performing above average were Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Canada, New Zealand and Austria.

In advanced mathematics, the United States' score of 442 was below the international average of 501. Only Austria (436) scored lower. France, with a score of 557, finished atop the rankings in this category. Others performing above average were the Russian Federation, Switzerland, Denmark, Cyprus and Lithuania.

In physics, the United States was last with a score of 423, well below the international average of 501. Norway led the rankings with a score of 581. Others performing above average were Sweden, the Russian Federation and Denmark.

A gender gap also was evident in the findings, with boys outperforming girls in mathematics and science literacy in all but one of the 21 countries tested. Similarly, boys outperformed girls in physics in all but one of the 16 countries tested, and in 11 out of 16 countries which tested advanced mathematics.

The TIMSS research has indicated a downward trend in the math and science skills of American pupils in the years following the fourth grade: In mathematics, US students perform above the international average at the fourth grade, but well below it at the eighth grade. In science, American pupils are above the international average at the fourth grade, but just average at the eighth grade.

Researchers said US middle school and high school curricula may be partly to blame for the drop-off since they do not require many math and science courses. By contrast, said IEA Chairman Tjeerd Plomp, "In Europe, there is not a student who can escape mathematics."

European students also must prepare for stiff national exams at the end of their senior year, while their American counterparts tend to be toning down the rigor of their classes, researchers added.

In other findings, calculator use was found to be characteristic of high performance. "On all three tests, students who reported using calculators daily performed well above those who rarely or never used them," said TIMSS International Deputy Study Director Michael Martin.

Researchers emphasized that the study is meant to provide a lens through which each participating country can examine its own educational system with an international perspective.

"Providing evidence that the students in 'my' country are doing better or worse than a competitor in the 'global market' does little to explain how such differences arise," said IEA Chairman Tjeerd Plomp of the Netherlands. "Such differences can have many possible causes, including differences in the content of the curriculum, tracking or streaming practices, classroom time on task, amount of homework, class size, and so forth.

"To provide policy-makers with a better understanding of the complex interplay among such factors and the most promising avenues to effective teaching and learning, we need further in-depth analyses of the extremely rich TIMSS data base," Plomp said.

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On page 36 of the December issue of Scientific American appear the
following not amusing statistics

Percentage of U.S. adults who say

Most entry level jobs will require basic science literacy
(whatever that might be )                                    83%

Science should be given the priority as reading, writing and
arithmetic  ( and since our current schools give zilch
priority to those three the question could mean that we
should also give zilch priority to science....but most are not
so cynical )                                                 64%

It is important that the U.S. maintain global leadership in
science and technology                                       93%

They are aware that the U.S. 12th graders rank near the bottom
on international science tests                                7%


Here we are scoring dead last in every international standardized test imaginable, and only 7% of Americans are aware of it?




Academic Performance of American Children


In 1986, Harold Stevenson, Shin-Ying Lee and James Stigler published a study in Science magazine that compared Chinese, Japanese and American children. The study sampled children in Minneapolis, Taipei, Taiwan and Sendai, Japan. All of the children were chosen from upper-middle class neighborhoods in their respective cities. Minneapolis was chosen due to its high academic success relative to the rest of the United States.

The study found:



bulletBy fifth grade, the best average school score for Minneapolis did not beat the worst Japanese average school score. There was no overlap between the two populations.
bulletThe best American fifth grade school beat only one Chinese school's score.
bulletThe worst American fifth grade class scored slightly better than the best Chinese first grade.
bulletFifteen American first graders were among the top 100 first grade children.
bulletBy the fifth grade, there was only 1 American child in the top 100 fifth grade children.

Cognitive differences

The authors measured perceptual speed, coding skills, spatial abilities, vocabulary, verbal memory and general information. They found:

bulletThe American children scored well when compared to the Japanese and Chinese children.
bulletThe American first graders tended towards the top on these tests.
bulletBy fifth grade there were no measurable differences.

Classwork and Homework

bulletFifth grade American children spend about 20 class hours/week on academic subjects. Four hours a week are spent on math vs. 8 hours on language arts.
bulletFifth grade Japanese and Chinese spend 33 and 40 class hours/week respectively.
bulletAmerican children spend 178 days in school as compared to 240 for the Chinese and Japanese.
bulletHomework time for first grade American children was 14 minutes compared to 37 and 77 minutes for Japanese and Chinese first graders.
bulletHomework time for fifth grade American children was 46 minutes compared to 57 and 114 minutes for Japanese and Chinese first graders.
bulletWeekend homework times for American, Japanese and Chinese children were 9, 34 and 78 minutes.

Cultural Differences

Thomas Edison's comment that his inventions were 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration has more Japanese and Chinese adherents than American adherents.

bulletJapanese and Chinese parents tend to believe that children that do well academically do so because they are diligent.
bulletAmerican parents tend to believe that children that do well academically do so because they are bright and diligent.
bulletHalf the Japanese and Chinese parents purchased math workbooks for their children.
bulletOne quarter of American parents purchased math workbooks for their children.
bulletChinese children like their homework, American children dislike it and Japanese children have mixed opinions about homework.
bulletYoung Chinese and Japanese children recognize that education is valued in Japan and Taiwan.
bulletIn a follow up study in 1993, the authors measured stress, anxiety and depression levels among the students. American students tended to be more stressed, anxious and depressed than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts.


Stevenson, et al., state that if American achievement in mathematics is to rise to world standards, parents will have to change their attitudes. They state: Impetus for change often comes from dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs. Most American mothers interviewed in this study did not appear to be dissatisfied with their children's schools, and seem unlikely, therefore, to become advocates for reform...American mothers have unrealistically favorable evaluations of their children and what they are accomplishing in school. Garrison Keilor, the American humorist, describes the mythical Lake Wobegon children as all above average. The authors contend that Keilor's joke about American parents is right on target.