in U.S. Math and Science Performance
December 14, 2004
The study results, released today in Boston and Washington, D.C., showed that the United States continues to score above the international average among TIMSS participants, but remains primarily in the middle of rankings among those nations that are most advanced or nations that have taken part in TIMSS consistently since the study's first assessment in 1995. Forty-six nations participated in the 2003 study.
Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation
Among U.S. eighth-grade students, 2003 scores in mathematics and science continued to improve, although math scores rose less. The U.S. math and science improvements, combined with decreases in average scores for some other nations placed U.S. students in a higher relative standing among its peers than in previous studies.
Fourth-grade, U.S. mathematics and science scores were virtually unchanged between 1995 and 2003. And, improvements made by other nations during that period actually lowered the relative ranking of U.S. students among TIMSS' previous participants.
However, U.S. eighth-grade students made significant gains in mathematics scores, with noticeably better performance in algebra. Black and Latino students in math and science at both fourth and eighth grades made even more progress.
"We're pleased to note the improvements by minority students," said Arden L. Bement, Jr., NSF director. "Having access to quality teaching and challenging material in math and science can only help these students later use their acquired skills to fill opportunities in the workplace where they are most needed for the benefit of the nation.
"Previous TIMSS studies showing declining mathematics performance in middle schools seems to have engendered a response by U.S. school systems, because we now rank among the top three countries in the amount of time devoted to teaching algebra in eighth grade," Bement said. "It indicates that when concentrated attention is brought to bear on a national education problem, our school systems have the capacity to take action and get positive results."
TIMSS is considered a good tool for assessing achievement over time because it looks closely at the curricula of the participating nations, and all countries are required to draw random samples representing students and schools to participate in the study, say NSF program officials.
Some of the key findings of the 2003 TIMSS report for U.S. students in mathematics were:
Some of the key findings for TIMSS 2003 in science included:
"We should be concerned about U.S. performance in chemistry and physics, which are critical parts of basic science," said Don Thompson, NSF's deputy assistant director for education and human resources. "But overall, TIMSS bodes well for our education system. It shows we can achieve great things when we place emphasis on and dedication to specific areas of learning. When we cast the net wider to include underrepresented minority students and others with less opportunity, we find their capacity and motivation to learn, achieve and contribute to society is strong."
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