WASHINGTON (AP) - American schoolchildren do better than people
think in math and science, but Asian students still dominate in
math and have gained ground in science, an international study
Kids in the U.S. made significant gains in math since 1995 and
score above average on international fourth- and eighth-grade tests
in the subject, according to a study released Tuesday.
The findings contradict a persistent view in the United States
that its children are lagging behind the rest of the developed
world. An AP poll in June found that nearly two in five people
believe American students do worse on math and science tests than
those in most of the developed countries.
Not true, the authors of the report said.
"Certainly, our results do not show the United States trailing
the developed world by any stretch of the imagination," said Ina
V.S. Mullis, a Boston College research professor and co-director of
"The Asian countries are way ahead of the rest of developed
countries, but mostly the developed countries are relatively
similar," Mullis said. "And the United States might be one of the
leaders of that group, depending on whether you're talking about
math or science in the fourth or the eighth grade."
Kids in Massachusetts and Minnesota did even better than the
U.S. overall. In fact, Massachusetts students did as well as some
of their Asian peers. Those two states took part in the study
The United States has a long way to go to lead the world in
math. The study reported dramatically higher math scores in five
Asian countries - Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Korea -
than other countries participating in the study.
The top-performing Asian countries also had the biggest share of
students reaching advanced benchmarks that represent fluency in the
most complex topics and reasoning skills.
For the U.S., the news in another area isn't as good: Kids still
do slightly better in science than math and are well above average,
but scores have stagnated since 1995. In the meantime, other
countries, including Singapore and Hong Kong, have made significant
gains and surpassed the U.S.
Outgoing Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said those
findings show the need for the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The 2002 law, which has become as unpopular as its champion,
President George W. Bush, requires annual state tests and imposes
penalties on schools that fail to make progress.
Spellings said the flat science scores, and gains by other
countries, "remind us that we can't afford to be complacent."
"Now is not the time to retreat from rigorous accountability;
instead, we must pick up the pace," Spellings said.
Conducted every four years, the Trends in International
Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, is widely used to measure
the knowledge and skills of elementary and middle school students
around the world. In 2007, 48 countries took part in eighth-grade
tests, and 36 countries took part in fourth-grade tests. In all,
425,000 students were tested.
The study compares the United States with other rich,
industrialized countries as well as many poorer nations. Scores in
the U.S. were above the international average in each subject and
Some believe the study gives too rosy a view of the U.S. by
including poorer countries. Compare the U.S. to similarly rich
countries, and its performance drops to the middle of the pack,
said Andrew Coulson of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.
Regardless, the international findings generally are consistent
with the United States' National Assessment of Educational
Progress, or NAEP, often called the nation's report card. That
study has also found progress in math and less progress in science.
And the state tests required by the No Child Left Behind law show
"Now all of our major tests are telling us the same things,"
said Tom Loveless, an education expert at the Brookings Institution
and a representative to the international group that administers
The poor perception of U.S. achievement has been reinforced by
another international test, the Program for International Student
Assessment, which is given to 15-year-olds in 30 developed
countries. That test is not tied to the school curriculum, as TIMSS
and NAEP are. Rather, it focuses on real-world application of math.
Other findings released Tuesday include:
-In the U.S., black and Hispanic students still had lower math
and science scores than white students, but the gap between them
generally shrank since 1995, except for the gap in math scores
between white and Hispanic fourth-graders, which didn't change.
Closing this achievement gap is a federal priority.
-Girls are closing the gender gap across the globe, with half
the countries showing no difference in test scores between boys and
girls. In the other half, girls did better in a quarter of the
countries, and boys did better in a quarter of the countries. In
the U.S., boys did slightly better than girls in fourth-grade math,
but the gender gap disappeared by eighth grade.
-Finding qualified math and science teachers is an increasing
problem around the world, especially in fourth grade. Fourth-grade
teachers reported little specific training or specialized
education, especially in science.
TIMSS is run by the International Association for Evaluation of
Educational Achievement, a coalition of research institutions.
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(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)