Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TIMMS: good work - now let's do better

The latest TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) report came out today, with data from 4th and 8th grade science and math student scores from many countries throughout the world. TIMMS is directed by the International Study Center at Boston College. Every four years, they gather data about how well students perform, on average, in each of several different countries (and some individual US states) in some key areas within math and science.

I'm going to focus on 8th grade math performance results, since that's the most pertinent to mathskool. Based on this table, the average US student score (8th grade math) was 508. This ranks 9th in the world, and is pretty far behind several Asian countries lead by Taipei with 598. It's slightly above the international average of 500.

There are a few ways to look at this data. Some, such as Sam Dillon from the New York Times, are focusing on the fact that our scores have improved a bit since 2003 (cf. this table). Others, such as Maria Glod, Washington Post, point out that we're still way behind the Asian leaders in education.

I'd like to congratulate the hard work and improved results of our teachers and students. We're headed in the right direction. But at the same time, it would be great to see our students perform at a more competitive level. If we saw our average Olympic game performance was 9th in the world, we wouldn't say "hey, it's still top 10!" We would push for the gold, and if I can be any part of that, then I'd like to contribute.

Below is a chart comparing the 2007 TIMMS scores of the top 11 countries versus national GDP per capita, as a sort of measure of each country's wealth. I've circled South Korea and Taipei as doing particularly well, and the US and England as having room for improvement, especially considering our per capita GDP.

I got the GDP data from this wikipedia page, which credits the data to the CIA.


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