Search:      Site      Web        
powered by
Study: Asian countries outpace U.S. in science, math
By FERMIN LEAL



American students have made little progress in catching up to children in east Asian countries in math and science achievement, results of a leading international study released Tuesday reveal.

The 2011 Trends in International Mathematical and Science Study, or TIMSS, show that United States fourth- and eighth-graders continue to lag behind students in countries like South Korea, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan (referred to in the study as Chinese Taipei) in a series of tests in the subjects.

Students in European countries Finland and Russia also outscored American children in science and math, results show.

U.S. fourth-graders rank 11th in math and seventh in science when compared with children in the same age groups internationally, while eighth-graders rank ninth in math and 10th in science. Fifty industrialized nations participated in the fourth-grade assessment, while 42 countries participated in the eighth-grade portion.

Educators and business leaders often point at TIMSS and other international comparisons to show that other nations now have the advantage over the U.S. in preparing students in science, technology, engineering and math, called STEM subjects, and in producing the next wave of scientists, engineers and researchers.

“As a country, we are currently achieving below our potential in science and math,” said Dean Gilbert, science coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education.

“Globally, countries still look to us to crank out innovators who create things like Facebook and Apple. But unless we change how we prioritize science and math, other countries will pass us by,” said Gilbert, who works with local education leaders to promote STEM education.

Since first released in 1995, TIMSS has served as one of two leading comparisons for student achievement in math and science globally. The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which measures literacy in math, science and reading among 15-year-olds, is the other. Results of the 2012 PISA study will be released next year.

TIMSS is conducted every four years and published by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, a collaborative of national research institutions and government research agencies.

“Countries use TIMMS to monitor progress in their educational systems in an international context,” said Michael Martin, co-executive director of the TIMSS International Study Center at Boston College. “The assessment results often stimulate policy discussion and recommendations for improving achievement outcomes.”

Globally, 501,299 students were tested as part of the 2011 TIMSS. In the U.S., 23,046 students from 1,050 public schools were tested in spring 2011. In each country, TIMSS tests a sample that’s representative of that nation’s population.

U.S. students improved their ranking by one spot in both fourth-grade and eight-grade science, compared with the 2007 TIMSS. In math, the U.S. ranking remains unchanged for grades four and eight. U.S. students have continuously ranked behind many of the same Asian and European countries since the first TIMSS.

TIMSS scores are scaled from 1 to 1,000, with 500 serving as the international average. American students made gradual gains in average scores compared with 2007. U.S. fourth-graders earned an average score of 541 in math, up 12 points, and an average of 544 in science, up 5 points. In the eighth grade, U.S. students’ score in math of 509 rose by 1 point compared with 2007, and the science score of 525 increased 5 points.

South Korea’s average score of 613 in eighth-grade math was the highest for all grades and subjects. Finland, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan generally had average scores of at least 50 points higher than students in the U.S. Educators often credit these countries’ more rigorous curriculum for their higher scores.

Students in South Korea, Singapore and Japan begin learning algebra, geometry, physics and chemistry between ages 12 and 14. Most U.S. students in the same age range generally review arithmetic and study life science and Earth science.

In Finland, students begin learning chemistry and biology concepts through experimentation, observation and theoretical models as early as the fifth grade.

This year, TIMSS also released results for students in nine participating U.S. states, including scores for the 2,614 eighth-graders tested in California. No California fourth-graders were tested. County-level information was not released, so it’s unclear if any Orange County students participated.

The Golden State’s eight-graders earned an average score of 493 in math and 499 in science. By comparison, Massachusetts’ eighth-grade science score of 567 ranked as the highest among all scores for the nine participating states.

“If California was its own country, it would rank even lower than the U.S.,” said Chris Roe, chief education officer of the California STEM Learning Network, a collaborative of business and educators working to create initiatives that promote science and math education statewide.

“Results from these international assessments show how important to make science and math education a national priority by bringing together stakeholders not just in education, but also in business and industry,” he said.

Some critics have said TIMSS and PISA comparisons need to be weighed with an understanding of the vastly different demographics and economies represented by participating countries.

For example, the U.S. poverty rate of 17 percent ranks among the highest of countries surveyed. Nearly every country that outperformed the U.S. posts a poverty rate less than 10 percent. The poverty rate among California public school students is 54 percent.

Contact the writer: 714-796-2258 or fleal@ocregister.com






 Employers - Looking to hire?
Upcoming Career Events