The latest study by IES attempts to document how American eighth graders compare to their peers around the globe. Using NAEP scores to predict performance on TIMSS, an international test that examines what students know about math and science, analysts included thirty-eight countries and nine other educational systems in their inquiry. And the results? Not terrible. Eighth-grade students in thirty-six states outperformed the international TIMSS average in math, and those in forty-seven states did so in science. In the interest of naming names, the states that performed below that average in math included Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, and the District of Columbia, while four systems—South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan—bested every U.S. state in math. Massachusetts did well in math compared to other systems, but when matched against the top performers, its scores weren’t anything to write home about: For instance, 19 percent of its eighth graders scored at the “advanced” level—compared to roughly 50 percent in Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore. As for science, forty-seven states scored higher than the TIMSS average, while three states’ scores—Mississippi, Alabama, and D.C.—scored lower. Six out of ten of the top scorers in science were in the U.S., including a decent chunk of the northeast states: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In general, the U.S. fared better in science than it did in math. That said, we ought to keep in mind a few caveats: (1) NAEP and TIMSS measure different things [link to podcast segment], even if the scores on them can be made statistically equivalent; (2) NAEP tests mostly public school students, while TIMSS includes private schools; and (3) the countries that were included in the study are both developed and developing countries, so the comparisons must be considered in that light. The bottom line: Our eighth graders are mostly average, but still lagging behind the world’s highest performers.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. States in a Global Context: Results From the 2011 NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, October 2013).
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