Education Week on the Web [www.edweek.org], June 24, 1998
Mo., Ore. 8th Graders Have Strong Showing On International Exam
By Millicent Lawton
Colorado Springs, Colo. Two American states have learned that their 8th graders can academically hold their own against their peers around the world.
In special testing conducted last year, students from Missouri and Oregon bested the performance of U.S. 8th graders in 1995 on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study tests. Presenters at the Council of Chief State School Officers' annual conference on large-scale assessment discussed the results here last week for the first time in a national venue.
In addition to outscoring the United States as a whole, Missouri and Oregon students performed above the international average in both mathematics and science, according to Pascal D. Forgione Jr., the U.S. Department of Education's commissioner of education statistics.
"It's good news for both of them," Mr. Forgione said of the two states.
By having the same students take the rigorous TIMSS exam and a new state assessment in math, Missouri gained even more information from the testing.
Now, it's the only state in the nation to be able to tell how its own statewide test compares with the global math exam as an international benchmark. The verdict: The Show-Me State has a tough test.
Missouri and Oregon became only the fourth and fifth states--after Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota--to give TIMSS exams to students as if the states were nations that had taken part in the global study. Missouri and Oregon took the Education Department up on its offer of a chance to give the exams last year.
Overall, Oregon came out a bit ahead of Missouri. When ranked among the 41 countries participating in TIMSS at the 8th grade level, Oregon fell behind only Singapore on the science exam. In math, eight countries scored significantly higher than Oregon.
"Oregon's school improvement act calls for us to have the best- educated citizens in the nation and the world," Norma Paulus, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a prepared statement. "These results show that we're well along the road to reaching that goal."
A total of 2,200 randomly-selected, representative students in 58 Oregon schools took the tests.
In Missouri, 8th graders also did well in science, again with just Singapore doing statistically better. They fared somewhat worse than the Oregonians in math, with 18 countries coming out ahead of them. As a whole, American 8th graders had seen nine nations score higher in science and 20 nations do better in math.
A representative sample of 2,102 8th graders from 54 districts took both the new Missouri Assessment Program and the TIMSS exams.
With its students taking the state test and the international exams, Missouri learned it is holding its students to tough performance standards on its home-grown assessment.
For instance, to be called "advanced," Missouri students must score at least 43 points higher on the state assessment than do the top 10 percent of world performers on TIMSS. Likewise, the point at which a Missouri student is called "proficient" is 22 points higher than the cut-off score to rank in the top quarter of TIMSS test-takers.
The results are "excellent news," said James Friedebach, the director of assessment for the Missouri education department. The close statistical link established between the Missouri state test and TIMSS "gave us a real opportunity to see how we're really doing."
"It's going to give districts an idea how they did against an international benchmark," Mr. Friedebach said. "It's a way to help them answer the question, 'Are we doing OK?'
"I think we've taken a very substantial step," he said, "in connecting large-scale assessment with classroom instruction." ***********************************************************
OREGON STUDENTS SCORE HIGH ON INTERNATIONAL MATH, SCIENCE TESTS
Oregon eighth graders scored above the international and national averages on science and math tests conducted by the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
In fact, of the 41 international participants, only Singapore scored significantly higher than Oregon in science, and only eight countries scored significantly higher in math.
"Oregon's school improvement act calls for us to have the best educated citizens in the nation and the world," said State Schools Supt. Norma Paulus. "These results show that we're well along the road to reaching that goal."
About 2,200 Oregon students in 58 schools last year took the same tests as the international participants took in 1995. TIMSS is the largest, most comprehensive and most rigorous international study of student achievement ever undertaken.
Oregon students scored 564 on the science test. That's significantly above the international average of 516 and the U.S. average of 534. Twenty-one percent of Oregon students scored in the top 10 percent on the science test, while 40 percent were in the top quarter and 64 percent in the top half.
On the math test, Oregon students scored 525, higher than the international score of 513 and the national score of 500. Nine percent of Oregon students were in the top 10 percent, 27 percent in the top quarter and 55 percent in the top half.
"I credit Oregon science and math teachers for our excellent showing," said Paulus who invited some of the state's science and math teachers to today's announcement. "Oregon teachers are working tirelessly to help students reach our high academic standards.
"For example, science teachers have connected their students to Oregon's best classroom, our outdoors. Oregon's backyard is filled with lesson plans for learning and applying science."
The TIMSS report is filled with detailed information on the results and factors affecting the scores.
For instance, the report shows a high correlation between test scores and time spent watching television. It shows that Oregon students watch less television than students in the nation and in most participating countries. This finding agrees with earlier results from Oregon's participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Oregon boys scored significantly higher than girls on the science test. The same gender difference was not found when Oregon participated in a science test conducted by NAEP.
More insights to science learning will come this summer when Oregon announces results of its first state science test conducted this year.
Paulus said testing is vital to charting student progress.
"Before Oregon's school improvement act was approved in 1991, we had a very limited ability to report on the quality of our schools," she said. "Now, through the state assessment and Oregon's participation in national and international tests, we are beginning to establish a valuable baseline for learning."
Only two other states, Missouri and Minnesota, participated in the TIMSS tests.
(contact Larry Austin: 503-378-3573, ext. 530)
Media: The TIMSS reports on science and math are posted on the Oregon Department of Education's web site found at http://www.ode.state.or.us
Norma Paulus, State Superintendent of Public Instruction ********************************************************** **********************************************************
Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU