LSOE Offers New Math, Science Data

By Patricia Delaney
Asst. Director of Public Affairs

American eighth-graders in a number of school jurisdictions nationwide rival the top international performers in math and science, according to a first-of-its-kind comparison by Boston College researchers. Some urban school districts, however, scored well below the international average, on par with some of the lowest-performing countries.

These and other findings were released by the Lynch School of Education's International Study Center at an April 4 news conference in Washington, DC, attended by US Education Secretary Rod Paige.

The center's report outlines results from the first major benchmarking of US students' performance in the 1999 Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Thirteen states, including Massachusetts, and 14 school districts and consortia participated in the TIMSS-1999 Benchmarking component, which enabled them to assess the comparative international standing of their students' achievements and to evaluate their math and science programs in an international context.

In general, TIMSS-Benchmarking provides evidence that some US schools are among the best in the world, but that a world-class education is not available to all children, according to International Study Center Co-directors Michael O. Martin and Ina V.S. Mullis.

Mullis pointed out that TIMSS-Benchmarking participants with more students from homes offering high levels of educational resources were among the top achievers in TIMSS 1999, while those with the lowest achievement were four urban districts that also had the lowest percentages of students with high levels of home educational resources.

"These results go hand in hand with extensive research showing that students in urban districts also often attend schools with fewer resources than in non-urban districts, including a less challenging curriculum and an atmosphere less conducive to learning," said Mullis, a professor in the Lynch School of Education.

Added Martin, an LSOE research professor, "It is clear from the TIMSS results that improving students' opportunities to learn requires examining every aspect of the educational system, including the curriculum, teacher quality, availability of resources, students' motivation, instructional effectiveness, parental support, and school safety."

The results of TIMSS-1999, released last December, showed Asian countries dominating in both mathematics and science performance at the eighth grade level, with US eighth graders about at the middle of the achievement distribution of the 38 participating countries.

According to the benchmarking study, students of the Naperville School District and the First in the World Consortium, both in Illinois, the Michigan Invitational Group and the Academy School District of Colorado all had average achievement in science comparable to the highest-performing countries participating in TIMSS-1999.

In mathematics, Naperville and First in the World eighth-graders also performed at a very high level, though not comparable to the top three international performers.

At the other end of the continuum, in both mathematics and science, urban districts with high percentages of students from low-income families and minorities performed similarly to lower-performing countries in TIMSS-1999, but significantly higher than the lowest-performing countries, according to the new report, titled "TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking: A Bridge to School Improvement."

Average performance in mathematics for the 13 benchmarking states was generally clustered in the middle of the international distribution of results for the 38 countries. In mathematics, all of the benchmarking states performed either significantly above or similar to the international average, yet significantly below the five high-performing Asian countries.

The 13 states' achievement in science was relatively better than in mathematics, with performance clustered in the upper half of the international distribution. All but three states performed significantly above the international average.

Massachusetts exceeded the overall United States average in both math and science.

In mathematics, students in the benchmarking jurisdictions generally followed the national pattern of doing relatively less well in measurement and geometry than in fractions and number sense, data representation and algebra. Similarly, they tended to perform relatively less well in physics than in the other science content areas.

The TIMSS data also shed some light on differences between the US and other countries in instructional time and emphases. American eighth-graders overall have more hours of instructional time in math and science than students internationally, though teachers in Naperville and the First in the World Consortium as well as in Korea reported comparatively less amounts of instructional time than many of the other TIMSS participants.

In Japan and Korea, more than half of the students were in math and science classes that never had interruptions for announcements or administrative tasks. Benchmarking participants and the US overall also reported devoting an unusually large amount of class time to working on homework, particularly in math.

The full TIMSS-Benchmarking reports are available at the International Study Center's World Wide Web site:


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