The US scored lower in the reading study than did five educational systems (Hong Kong, the state of Florida, the Russian Federation, Finland, and Singapore), was statistically equal to seven others, and was higher than 40.
More striking (particularly given that in US measurements, reading scores have been harder to improve than math scores), the US average improved an impressive 16 points from the last time the test was given in 2006. And in terms of the percentages of students scoring at or above the most “advanced” reading benchmark score, only two systems – Singapore and Florida – were ahead of the United States.
In the TIMSS math and science scores, the results for the US were more mixed. The US average score increased by a measurable amount in fourth-grade math, but remained statistically unchanged in fourth-grade science and eighth-grade math and science.
The US average was higher than the international average in all subjects, but, as with the domestic report card scores, students’ performance seemed to fall with older students.
Eight education systems (including the state of North Carolina) scored better than the US in fourth-grade math, while by eighth grade, 11 outscored the US (including Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana).
In science, the US fell even more rapidly: Just six education systems outscored the US in fourth grade, and by eighth grade, 12 had higher average scores.
“What we see in our national assessment is improvement among our youngest kids,” notes Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the data. “But when you start looking at our older students, you see less improvement over time.” Those results, he says, are mirrored here, as well as in the other major international comparison, PISA, which tests 15-year-olds, and on which the US tends to fare more poorly than on TIMSS.