Critics who argue that the United States lags behind its international peers in the education rankings might find some evidence to the contrary in recent results of a major international assessment, which shows fourth-and eighth-graders making strong gains in math and modest improvements in science.
“The message for the country is that we're improving in mathematics, particularly at the 10th percentile,” or the lowest performing students, says Patrick Gonzales, the U.S. coordinator for the test, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), at the Department of Education. “In science, there are more mixed results.”
U.S. fourth-graders scored 529, on average, in math, which is higher than the TIMSS scale average of 500, and they scored 539 in science. Eighth-graders scored 508 in math and 520 in science.
Some experts, while supportive of the results, say the devil may be in the details. Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, a nonprofit education organization, cautions that the U.S. results are relative. More developing countries participated in TIMSS this year than in previous years, and so while the results are heartening, “there is still much work that needs to be done,” he says.
Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, offers another perspective: If the United States were in the international education emergency room, our vital signs would now be stable. “However, all the other patients are getting better faster. It's time to ask, “What do we need to do to catch up with the others?”
Top 10 Average Math Scores of Eighth Graders
China - 598
Republic of Korea - 597
Singapore - 593
Hong Kong - 572
Japan - 570
Hungary - 517
England - 513
Russia - 512
United States - 508
Lithuania - 506
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