Following several years of dismal reports on the declining state of American education in the international arena, a new set of studies show mixed signs of progress among elementary school students.
On the bright side, substantial progress has been made in reading levels among fourth graders.
On the other hand, little if any progress has been achieved in science or mathematics at both the fourth grade and eighth grade levels.
The studies, named the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) are conducted by the International Study Center at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.
TIMSS provides data on the mathematics and science achievement of U.S. 4th- and 8th-grade students compared to that of students in other countries. TIMSS data have been collected in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011.
For the past 15 years PIRLS has measured trends in reading comprehension at the fourth grade. First assessed in 2001, PIRLS has been on a regular 5-year cycle since then.
In 2011, more than 60 countries and other education systems, including the United States, participated in TIMSS. More than 20,000 students in more than 1,000 schools across the United States took the assessment in spring 2011, joining almost 500,000 other students around the world who took part in TIMSS. Because the PIRLS study was also administered at grade four in spring 2011, TIMSS and PIRLS in the United States were administered in the same schools to the extent feasible. Students took either TIMSS or PIRLS on the day of the assessments.
The most dramatic improvement for U.S. students was in reading scores that were measured at the fourth grade level..
In 2006 the U.S ranked 15th* among those countries surveyed.
*Reflects separate reporting for four Canadian provinces
In the 2011 study, The U.S. had advanced to 6th overall.
In Mathematics and Science, studies are conducted at both the fourth and eighth grade levels.
In 2007, U.S. students in the fourth grade ranked in 8th position worldwide in science.
In 2011 fourth graders had advanced one position to 7th place.
Eighth graders from the U.S. held the 11th position worldwide in 2007.
In 2011 they also moved up one position to the number 10 position.
In 2007 U.S. fourth grade students ranked in 11th position in mathematics.
In the 2011 study they had merely succeeded in maintaining that position.
In 2011 U.S students had remained in 9th place.
One of the few bright spots in the mathematics and science categories was the performance of eighth graders in Massachusetts. In mathematics the state of Massachusetts was outperformed only by the four highest achieving Asian countries. In science, Massachusetts eighth graders were outperformed only by the top-performing country of Singapore.
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