TIMSS: U.S. moves up in math, but Asians still rule

The new TIMSS 2007 report is out. U.S. fourth and eighth graders improved in math but stayed the same in science, reports the New York Times.

Asian students did very, very well: Hong Kong and Taiwan students ranked first in math; Singapore was first in science.

Nearly half of eighth graders scored at the advanced level in math in Taiwan, Korea and Singapore, compared with 6 percent of American students.

In a special study of two states,  Massachusetts eighth graders bested all countries except for Singapore and Taiwan.  Minnesota fourth-grade students made gains in science: Those performing at the advanced level jumped from 9 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2007.

In the fourth-grade math survey, the U.S. was outscored by Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia, England and Latvia and did about as well as the Netherlands, Lithuania, Germany and Denmark.

In science, U.S. fourth graders were outscored by students in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong;  eighth graders lagged behind students in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, England, Hungary and Russia.

So what? asks Gerald Bracey. The U.S. doesn’t have to test the best in math and science.

Who cares if Singapore, with about the same population as the Washington Metro Area, and Hong Kong, with about twice that number, score high? There aren’t many people there. (And, as journalist Fareed Zakariya found out, the Singapore kids fade as they become adults.

. . . Second, test scores, at least average test scores, don’t seem to be related to anything important to a national economy. Japan’s kids have always done well, but the economy sank into the Pacific in 1990 and has never recovered.

I’ll try to add more when I can. I’m on the move today from Washington, D.C. to Indianapolis — and my laptop’s wireless connection is acting up.

On Flypaper, the Fordhamites cheer the math result, while Diane Ravitch says NCLB deserves no credit for the minimal math gains.

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  1. Well, sure, Gerald Bracy–we don’t have to do anything we don’t wanna do. But I think the question is, when did we start to settle for mediocrity? In international comparisons we have become a good solid middle of the pack country. Our lowest kids score lower than the countries at the top, and we have smaller percentages of higher scoring kids.

    And we seem to be stuck there, despite incremental changes. We are pretty satisfied with incremental changes. But we made it to the middle of the pack by coasting and letting others pass us by. Lack of aspiration doesn’t strike me as a good way to go through life.

  2. Well, last I looked Hong Kong is part of China. So the ranking and argument about numbers may be reversed from the one that was made.