TODAY, 12TH-GRADE RESULTS from the largest, most comprehensive international comparison of education ever undertaken were released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
According to the results, from the Third International Mathematics & Science Study (TIMSS), U.S. 12th-graders' performance "was among the lowest of the participating countries in mathematics & science general knowledge, physics & advanced mathematics."
Secretary Riley said today that "These results are entirely unacceptable, and absolutely confirm our need to raise our standards of achievement, testing, and teaching, especially in our middle & high schools -- and to get more serious about taking math & science courses."
The Secretary outlined 6 steps:
1. Build a firm foundation by having more students study algebra & geometry by 8th & 9th grade.
2. Raise state & local standards of academic performance in mathematics & science.
3. Measure student performance against rigorous standards, like the voluntary national test in 8th-grade mathematics.
4. Offer a challenging curriculum & encourage students to take demanding mathematics & science courses, such as calculus & physics by 12th grade.
5. Improve the teaching of mathematics & science through teacher training, and reduce the large number of teachers teaching out-of-field.
6. Destroy the myth that advanced mathematics & science are for only a few students.
Also, the Secretary & National Science Foundation Director Neal Lane announced a $60 million joint "action strategy" to improve middle school mathematics (executive summary at: http://www.ed.gov/inits/TIMSS/execsum.html).
Previously released reports on 4th- and 8th-grade results from TIMSS -- plus actual test items (in PDF only), information for ordering the TIMSS toolkit and a "videotape classroom study" of 8th-grade teaching styles in 3 countries -- can be found at: http://nces.ed.gov/timss/
Below is the executive summary of today's report, "Pursuing Excellence: A Study of U.S. 12th-Grade Mathematics & Science Achievement in International Context."
**************************************************** Executive Summary of "Pursuing Excellence: A Study of U.S. 12th-Grade Mathematics & Science Achievement in International Context" (February 24, 1998) ****************************************************
The Third International Mathematics & Science Study (TIMSS) is the largest, most comprehensive, & most rigorous international comparison of education ever undertaken. During 1995, the study assessed the mathematics & science knowledge of a half-million students from 41 nations at 3 levels of schooling.
The information in this report is about students who were assessed at the end of 12th grade in the United States & at the end of secondary education in other countries. It includes 4 areas of performance: mathematics general knowledge, science general knowledge, physics, & advanced mathematics.
This report on students in the final year of secondary school is the last in a series of 3 public-audience reports titled "Pursuing Excellence." The first report presented findings on student achievement at 8th grade. The second report presented findings from the 4th grade.
TIMSS is a fair & accurate comparison of mathematics & science achievement in the participating nations. The students who participated in TIMSS were scientifically selected to accurately represent students in their respective nations. The entire assessment process was scrutinized by international technical review committees to ensure its adherence to established standards. Those nations in which irregularities arose, including the United States, are clearly noted in this & other TIMSS reports.
Criticisms of previous international studies comparing students near the end of secondary school are not valid for TIMSS. Because the high enrollment rates for secondary education in the United States are typical of other TIMSS countries, our general population is not being compared to more select groups in other countries. Further, the strict quality controls ensured that the sample of students taking the general knowledge assessments was representative of all students at the end of secondary school, not just those in academically-oriented programs.
This report consists of 3 parts: initial findings from the assessments of mathematics & of science general knowledge; initial findings from assessments of physics & of advanced mathematics; & initial findings about school systems & students' lives.
Achievement of All Students ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A sample of all students at the end of secondary school (12th grade in the United States) was assessed in mathematics & science general knowledge. Mathematics general knowledge & science general knowledge are defined as the knowledge of mathematics & of science needed to function effectively in society as adults.
U.S. 12th graders performed below the international average & among the lowest of the 21 TIMSS countries on the assessment of mathematics general knowledge. U.S. students were outperformed by those in 14 countries, & outperformed those in 2 countries. Among the 21 TIMSS nations, our students' scores were not significantly different from those in 4 countries.
U.S. 12th graders also performed below the international average & among the lowest of the 21 TIMSS countries on the assessment of science general knowledge. U.S. students were outperformed by students in 11 countries. U.S. students outperformed students in 2 countries. Our students' scores were not significantly different from those of 7 countries.
The international standing of U.S. students was stronger at the 8th grade than at the 12th grade in both mathematics & science among the countries that participated in assessments at both grade levels.
The U.S. international standing on the general knowledge component of TIMSS was higher in science than in mathematics. This pattern is similar to the findings at 4th & 8th grades in TIMSS.
The U.S. was 1 of 3 countries that did not have a significant gender gap in mathematics general knowledge among students at the end of secondary schooling. While there was a gender gap in science general knowledge in the United States, as in every other TIMSS nation except 1, the U.S. gender gap was one of the smallest.
Achievement of Advanced Students ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The advanced mathematics assessment was administered to students who had taken or were taking pre-calculus, calculus, or AP calculus in the United States & to advanced mathematics students in other countries. The physics assessment was administered to students in the United States who had taken or were taking physics or AP physics & to advanced science students in other countries.
Performance of U.S. physics & advanced mathematics students was among the lowest of the 16 countries which administered the physics & advanced mathematics assessments. In advanced mathematics, 11 countries outperformed the United States & no countries performed more poorly. In physics, 14 countries outperformed the United States; again, no countries performed more poorly.
In all 3 content areas of advanced mathematics & in all 5 content areas of physics, U.S. physics & advanced mathematics students' performance was among the lowest of the TIMSS nations.
In both physics & advanced mathematics, males outperformed females in the United States & most of the other TIMSS countries.
More countries outperformed the United States in physics than in advanced mathematics. This differs from the results for mathematics & science general knowledge, as well as the results at grades 4 & 8, where more countries outperformed the United States in mathematics than in science.
Contexts of Learning ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
It is too early in the process of data analysis to provide strong evidence to suggest factors that may be related to the patterns of performance at the end of secondary schooling described here.
While secondary education in the United States differs structurally in important dimensions from that in many of the other countries, in this first analysis, few of those structural differences are clearly related to the relatively poor performance of our 12th graders on the TIMSS assessments.
Although the lives of U.S. graduating students differ from those of their peers in other countries on several of the factors examined, few appear to be systematically related to our performance in 12th grade compared to the other countries participating in TIMSS.
Further analyses are needed to provide more definitive insights on these subjects.
U.S. students' performance was among the lowest of the participating countries in mathematics & science general knowledge, physics, & advanced mathematics.
TIMSS does not suggest any single factor or combination of factors that can explain why our performance at 12th grade is so low relative to other countries at the end of secondary education.
From our initial analyses, it also appears that some factors commonly thought to influence individual student performance are not strongly related to average student performance at the end of secondary school across countries in TIMSS.
TIMSS provides a rich source of information about student performance in mathematics & science, & about education in other countries. These initial findings suggest that to use the study most effectively, we need to pursue the data beyond this initial report, taking the opportunity & time to look at interrelationships among factors in greater depth.
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