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TIMSS and PISA: How the United States fared in 2015

The results are in for the world’s two largest international education assessments: the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Assessment (PISA). For discussion of PISA’s overall value, read a piece by Henry Levin, TC’s William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics & Education. For discussion of how the media interprets the results of these two international assessments, read a story on the work Oren Pizmony-Levy, Assistant Professor of Comparative & International Education.

Meanwhile, here’s a brief recap of how the United States fared on TIMSS and PISA:

TIMSS (adapted from the National Center for Education Statistics)

The United States is ranked 14th in TIMSS on mathematics for fourth graders’ average score, just after Kazakhstan and Portugal. The five top-ranked countries, in order, are Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Taipei and Japan. The United States ranked 11th for fourth graders average score in 2011.

For eighth graders average score in mathematics, the United States ranked 10th, after Ireland and Ontario, Canada. The top-ranked five countries, in order, are Singapore, Korea, Taipei, Hong Kong and Japan. The United States ranked 9th for eighth graders average score in 2011.

U.S. fourth- and eighth-grade students have, on average, shown long-term improvement on the TIMSS mathematics assessments.

Between 1995 and 2015, U.S. fourth-graders’ average mathematics scores increased from 518 to 539 points. The fourth-grade average mathematics score in 2015 was also higher than in 2003 and 2007, but not measurably different from the most recent assessment in 2011. Improvements in fourth-graders’ mathematics scores were seen across the distribution of achievement over these 20 years.  

U.S. eighth-graders’ average mathematics score also increased between 1995 and 2015 from 492 to 518 points. The eighth-grade average mathematics score in 2015 was higher than in any prior administration of TIMSS. However, among lower-performing students, there was no measurable difference from 2007 or 2011 to 2015.

Looking over time, the percentages of U.S. fourth-graders reaching each of the four TIMSS international benchmarks in mathematics were greater in 2015 than in 1995 and 2003. In addition, the percentages of students reaching the Advanced and High international benchmarks in mathematics were greater in 2015 than in 2007. However, the percentages of students reaching the Intermediate and Low benchmarks were not measurably different over this period. The percentage of students reaching the Low international benchmark in 2015 was lower than in 2011. At the eighth grade, the percentages of students reaching each of the four TIMSS international benchmarks in mathematics were also greater in 2015 than in 1995. Notably, the percentages of students reaching the Advanced and High international benchmark in mathematics were greater in 2015 than in 2003, 2007, and 2011 as well, and the percentage reaching the High international benchmark was the greatest of any administration.

In fourth-grade science, the U.S. ranks 10th, behind Florida and Poland. The five top-ranked nations are, in order, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Russian Federation and Hong Kong. The U.S. ranked 7th in 2011. In eighth grade science, the U.S. also ranks 11th. The five top-ranked nations are, in order, Singapore, Japan, Taipei, Korea, and Slovenia. The United States ranked 13th in 2011.

U.S. fourth-grade students have shown improvement on the TIMSS science assessments over some time periods: the average score in 2015 was higher than in 2003 and 2007. However, there was no measurable difference between the average science score in 2015 and the average science score in 1995 or 2011.  

In eighth-grade science, the U.S. ranks 11th. U.S. eighth-graders' score increased between 1995 and 2015: from 513 to 530 points. The eighth-grade average science score was also higher in 2015 than in 1999 and 2007, but there were no measurable differences from 2003 or the most recent time point (2011) to 2015.

Looking over time, the percentage of U.S. fourth-graders reaching the Intermediate TIMSS international benchmarks in science was greater in 2015 than in 1995, 2003, and 2007. Additionally, the 2015 percentage of U.S. fourth-graders reaching the Low benchmark was greater than in 1995, the percentage reaching the High benchmark was greater than in 2003 and 2007, and the percentage reaching the Advanced benchmark was greater than in 2003. However, there were no measurable differences in the percentages of U.S. fourth-graders reaching any of the international benchmarks in science between 2011 and 2015. At the eighth grade, the percentages of U.S. students reaching the Intermediate and High international benchmarks in science were greater in 2015 than in 1995, 1999, and 2007. Additionally, the 2015 percentage of U.S. eighth-graders reaching the Low benchmark was greater than in 1995 and 1999. There were no measurable differences in the percentages of U.S. eighth-grade students reaching any of the international benchmarks in science between 2011 and 2015.

PISA (adapted from the National Center for Education Statistics)  

  • For mean performance at the country, the United States ranked 19th in science, 20th in readings and 31st in mathematics out of 35 OECD countries  
  • In science and reading, there was no statistically significant difference between performance in the United States and the average performance across the OECD, while in mathematics, the United States performed below the OECD average.
  • The mean performance in the United States in science and reading has been stable since the last assessment in which those subject areas were the major domains of the assessment: from 489 to 496 score points in science from 2006 to 2015, and from 500 to 497 points in reading from 2009 to 2015.
  • However,mathematics performance in the United States fell significantly, from 481 to 470 points between 2012 (a year in which its performance was also below the OECD average) and 2015.  
  • In 2015, the mean performance of the United States in science (496 score points) is statistically equivalent to that of countries with a performance ranging between 490 and 502 points; 12 other OECD countries perform at this level, including  Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Poland and Sweden. However, the United States performs significantly below the four high-performing countries/economies discussed in this report: Canada (528), Estonia (534), Germany (509) and Hong Kong (China), a non-OECD member (523).  

Published Wednesday, Dec 7, 2016

The results are in for the world’s two largest international education assessments: the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Assessment (PISA). For discussion of PISA’s overall value, read a piece by Henry Levin, TC’s William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics & Education. For discussion of how the media interprets the results of these two international assessments, read a story on the work Oren Pizmony-Levy, Assistant Professor of Comparative & International Education.

Meanwhile, here’s a brief recap of how the United States fared on TIMSS and PISA:

TIMSS (adapted from the National Center for Education Statistics)

The United States is ranked 14th in TIMSS on mathematics for fourth graders’ average score, just after Kazakhstan and Portugal. The five top-ranked countries, in order, are Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Taipei and Japan. The United States ranked 11th for fourth graders average score in 2011.

For eighth graders average score in mathematics, the United States ranked 10th, after Ireland and Ontario, Canada. The top-ranked five countries, in order, are Singapore, Korea, Taipei, Hong Kong and Japan. The United States ranked 9th for eighth graders average score in 2011.

U.S. fourth- and eighth-grade students have, on average, shown long-term improvement on the TIMSS mathematics assessments.

Between 1995 and 2015, U.S. fourth-graders’ average mathematics scores increased from 518 to 539 points. The fourth-grade average mathematics score in 2015 was also higher than in 2003 and 2007, but not measurably different from the most recent assessment in 2011. Improvements in fourth-graders’ mathematics scores were seen across the distribution of achievement over these 20 years.  

U.S. eighth-graders’ average mathematics score also increased between 1995 and 2015 from 492 to 518 points. The eighth-grade average mathematics score in 2015 was higher than in any prior administration of TIMSS. However, among lower-performing students, there was no measurable difference from 2007 or 2011 to 2015.

Looking over time, the percentages of U.S. fourth-graders reaching each of the four TIMSS international benchmarks in mathematics were greater in 2015 than in 1995 and 2003. In addition, the percentages of students reaching the Advanced and High international benchmarks in mathematics were greater in 2015 than in 2007. However, the percentages of students reaching the Intermediate and Low benchmarks were not measurably different over this period. The percentage of students reaching the Low international benchmark in 2015 was lower than in 2011. At the eighth grade, the percentages of students reaching each of the four TIMSS international benchmarks in mathematics were also greater in 2015 than in 1995. Notably, the percentages of students reaching the Advanced and High international benchmark in mathematics were greater in 2015 than in 2003, 2007, and 2011 as well, and the percentage reaching the High international benchmark was the greatest of any administration.

In fourth-grade science, the U.S. ranks 10th, behind Florida and Poland. The five top-ranked nations are, in order, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Russian Federation and Hong Kong. The U.S. ranked 7th in 2011. In eighth grade science, the U.S. also ranks 11th. The five top-ranked nations are, in order, Singapore, Japan, Taipei, Korea, and Slovenia. The United States ranked 13th in 2011.

U.S. fourth-grade students have shown improvement on the TIMSS science assessments over some time periods: the average score in 2015 was higher than in 2003 and 2007. However, there was no measurable difference between the average science score in 2015 and the average science score in 1995 or 2011.  

In eighth-grade science, the U.S. ranks 11th. U.S. eighth-graders' score increased between 1995 and 2015: from 513 to 530 points. The eighth-grade average science score was also higher in 2015 than in 1999 and 2007, but there were no measurable differences from 2003 or the most recent time point (2011) to 2015.

Looking over time, the percentage of U.S. fourth-graders reaching the Intermediate TIMSS international benchmarks in science was greater in 2015 than in 1995, 2003, and 2007. Additionally, the 2015 percentage of U.S. fourth-graders reaching the Low benchmark was greater than in 1995, the percentage reaching the High benchmark was greater than in 2003 and 2007, and the percentage reaching the Advanced benchmark was greater than in 2003. However, there were no measurable differences in the percentages of U.S. fourth-graders reaching any of the international benchmarks in science between 2011 and 2015. At the eighth grade, the percentages of U.S. students reaching the Intermediate and High international benchmarks in science were greater in 2015 than in 1995, 1999, and 2007. Additionally, the 2015 percentage of U.S. eighth-graders reaching the Low benchmark was greater than in 1995 and 1999. There were no measurable differences in the percentages of U.S. eighth-grade students reaching any of the international benchmarks in science between 2011 and 2015.

PISA (adapted from the National Center for Education Statistics)  

  • For mean performance at the country, the United States ranked 19th in science, 20th in readings and 31st in mathematics out of 35 OECD countries  
  • In science and reading, there was no statistically significant difference between performance in the United States and the average performance across the OECD, while in mathematics, the United States performed below the OECD average.
  • The mean performance in the United States in science and reading has been stable since the last assessment in which those subject areas were the major domains of the assessment: from 489 to 496 score points in science from 2006 to 2015, and from 500 to 497 points in reading from 2009 to 2015.
  • However,mathematics performance in the United States fell significantly, from 481 to 470 points between 2012 (a year in which its performance was also below the OECD average) and 2015.  
  • In 2015, the mean performance of the United States in science (496 score points) is statistically equivalent to that of countries with a performance ranging between 490 and 502 points; 12 other OECD countries perform at this level, including  Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Poland and Sweden. However, the United States performs significantly below the four high-performing countries/economies discussed in this report: Canada (528), Estonia (534), Germany (509) and Hong Kong (China), a non-OECD member (523).  
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