Collaboration in Civic Spheres

U.S. Study: Global Challenges For WA in Math, Science

by Matt Rosenberg October 25th, 2013

A first-time ever comparison of academic achievement between U.S. states and foreign countries – focused on eighth grade math and science mastery – shows Washington’s rankings are above average globally and nationally but still have a long way to go. Released just this week, the report “U.S. States in a Global Context” from the U.S. government’s Center for Education Statistics shows that Washington eighth-graders on average ranked behind 15 other states in math results and also that their predicted offshore rankings lagged seven of the 47 foreign nations or foreign subdivisions included in study results. The Evergreen state was also bested in average science scores by 21 other U.S. states as well as in predicted global standings by Taipei, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Alberta, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, and Singapore.

Two Tests Tied Together
The new report, subtitled the “2011 NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study,” ties together two different test rankings to give a better picture of how each state competes globally in math and science. The first is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a 50 states, U.S.-only effort begun in 1969 and known as “the nation’s report card.”

But it’s been virtually impossible to gauge state performance versus increasingly vital international rankings. Enter the second piece of the Linking Study. It comes from the global Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), reported by the U.S. Department of Education, which since 1995 has every four years compared fourth and eighth grade math and science test results between the U.S. and several dozen key global trading partners.

Predicting States’ Performance Versus Global Results
The new Linking Study’s designers used NAEP 2011 state-by-state results in eighth grade math and science – and then through a detailed and validated “statistical linking” method – were able to predict how those 50 U.S. state cohorts would have ranked internationally in TIMSS science and math tests taken the same year by eighth graders in 38 countries and nine foreign “sub-national education systems” primarily in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

The TIMSS score rankings are on a scale of 1,000 with the “advanced” scoring benchmark set at 625, “high” at 550 and “intermediate” at 475.

WA 25th in Math
The average score of Washington eighth-graders of 523 in math in the Linking Study was above the TIMSS average of 500 and above the intermediate benchmark, indicating mastery of “basic mathematical knowledge” but below the high benchmark indicating an ability to “apply their understanding and knowledge in a variety of relatively complex situations.” Fifteen other U.S. states and seven foreign competitors bested Washington’s average score in math. Washington’s math score was in the ninth highest of 34 broader distribution clusters. Only one U.S. state, Massachusetts, exceeded the global high benchmark score on math – as did South Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Here’s a look at how U.S. states fared against the 2011 TIMMS global average and benchmarks in math (eighth grade).

From National Center For Education Statistics, U.S. States in a Global Context, October, 2013

WA 30th in Science
Washington eighth-grade average scores of 536 in science exceeded the TIMSS average of 500 and the intermediate benchmark level of “basic knowledge and understanding of practical situations in the sciences” but fell short short of high benchmark skills of being able to “apply…knowledge and understanding of the sciences to explain phenomena in everyday and abstract concepts.” On science, more U.S. states fared well in predicted rankings internationally but Washington’s standing was weaker than in math. Twenty-one U.S. states exceed Washington in predicted eighth-grade average science test scores against the global competition, as did eight international competitors: Tapei, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Alberta, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, and Singapore. Washington’s science score was in seventh highest of 28 broader distribution clusters.

Six U.S. states exceeded the global high benchmark in science: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Maine and Minnesota.

Here’s how U.S. states did versus the 2011 TIMMS global average and benchmarks in science (eighth grade).

From National Center For Education Statistics, U.S. States in a Global Context, October, 2013

Among the total of 47 nations or national sub-units measured in TIMSS 2011, the U.S. ranked 11th overall in average eighth-grade scores for both math and science. In an effort to provide context, the study includes information for U.S. states and TIMSS global entities on per-capita GDP, public spending on education as a percent of GDP, and teacher-student ratios.

For a closer look at the results, use the study’s interactive data hub. Select either math or science, then click on the “distribution” option to mouse-over the solid (U.S. states) and framed (international) colored squares arranged in scoring clusters to see how they all compare.

TIMMS is scheduled to be administered again globally in 2015, with results available by the end of 2016.

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