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U.S. STATES IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT: U.S. Eighth-Graders’ Math and Science Scores on Par with International Average, but Lag Leading Countries Internationally, Finds New NCES Report

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“We found that most eighth graders in the U.S. are competitive in math and science when their predicted performances were compared to their peers from around the globe. Still, our leading states are behind the highest-performing countries," said NCES Commissioner Jack Buckley.

When compared internationally, average scores for U.S. eighth-grade public school students in thirty-five states in math and forty-six states in science were higher than the international average, according to a new report from the National Center on Education Statistics (NCES). In math, the highest-ranking U.S. states ranked behind top-performers from the Far East, such as Korea, Singapore, and Japan. In science, however, Massachusetts ranked second and Vermont ranked fourth. The report, U.S. States in a Global Context: Results from the 2011 NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study, links states’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to that of the thirty-eight countries and nine subnational education systems that participated in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

“We conducted this study because it’s important to know how students educated in U.S. states are performing against international standards,” said NCES Commissioner Jack Buckley. “We found that most eighth graders in the U.S. are competitive in math and science when their predicted performances were compared to their peers from around the globe. Still, our leading states are behind the highest-performing countries. Even Massachusetts, a top U.S. performer in math and science, struggles to compete with top-performing countries.”

The Republic of Korea ranked first in math with a score of 613, followed by Singapore (611) and Chinese Taipei (609). Massachusetts (561), the top-performing U.S. state, ranked sixth, while Vermont (547), Minnesota (545), New Jersey (545), and New Hampshire (541) all finished in the top ten. Ten U.S. states (Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and South Carolina) were in line with the international average while six states (Alabama, District of Columbia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia) performed below the international average. The highest-performing nations and the thirty-six U.S. states with an average eighth-grade mathematics score higher than the international average are shown in the graph below. (Click on the image below for a larger version).

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In addition to having average math scores below the top international performers, U.S. states have significantly fewer students performing at the advanced level. For example, nearly half (48 percent) of students in Singapore perform at the advanced level in math, compared to only 19 percent of Massachusetts’s students. Overall, 6 percent of U.S. eighth graders in public schools performed at the advanced level and 23 percent performed at the high level.

In science, Singapore ranked first with a score of 590, followed by Massachusetts (567), Chinese Taipei (564), Vermont (561), and the Republic of Korea (560). Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and North Dakota placed in the top ten. In total, forty-six states ranked above the international average, two states (Arizona and California) were in line with the international average, while three states (Alabama, the District of Columbia, and Mississippi) were below the international average. Forty percent of eighth graders in Singapore performed at the advanced level—the most in the world and significantly higher than Chinese Taipei and Massachusetts, which tied for second with 24 percent. Overall, 9 percent of U.S. eighth graders in public schools performed at the advanced level while 30 percent performed at the high level.

In conducting the study, NCES used states’ NAEP scores to predict performance on TIMSS. Nine states (Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and North Carolina) participated in 2011 TIMSS at the state level and their actual TIMSS scores were used to validate the predicted results included in the study. Still, the report cautions that predicted TIMSS scores should not be interpreted as actual TIMSS scores.

The complete report is available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/studies/pdf/2013460.pdf.

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