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Media Contact: Patricia Delaney Director of Media Relations
Boston College

TIMSS Project Contact:
Michael O. Martin
Ina V.S. Mullis
Co-Directors International Study Center


Findings Show School Jurisdictions in Illinois, Michigan and Colorado Rival High Performers Internationally

WASHINGTON, DC (4-4-01) – Eighth grade students of the Naperville School District and the First in the World Consortium (both in Illinois), the Michigan Invitational Group and the Academy School District (Colorado) all had average achievement in science comparable to the highest-performing countries participating in the 1999 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), according to the latest TIMSS report released today by the Boston College International Study Center at a news conference in Washington, DC.

In mathematics, eighth grade students in the Naperville School District and First in the World Consortium also performed at a very high level, though not comparable to the top three international performers.

At the other end of the continuum, in both mathematics and science, urban districts with high percentages of students from low-income families and minorities performed similarly to lower-performing countries in TIMSS-1999, but significantly higher than the lowest-peforming countries, according to the new report, "TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking: A Bridge to School Improvement."

The report outlines the results of a voluntary U.S. benchmarking component of TIMSS-1999 (or TIMSS-Repeat), a second TIMSS assessment conducted at the eighth grade level to measure trends in math and science achievement. The results of TIMSS-1999, released in December 2000, showed Asian countries dominating in both mathematics and science performance at the eighth grade level, with U.S. eighth graders about at the middle of the achievement distribution of the 38 participating countries.

Twenty-seven jurisdictions from across the nation participated in TIMSS-Benchmarking. The 13 participating states were Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. The 14 participating districts and consortia include: Academy School District #20 (CO); Delaware Science Coalition (DE); Miami-Dade County Public Schools (FL); Chicago Public Schools, First in the World Consortium, and Naperville School District #203 (IL); Montgomery County (MD); Michigan Invitational Group (MI); Guilford County (NC); Fremont/Lincoln/Westside Public Schools (NE); Jersey City Public Schools (NJ); Rochester City School District (NY); Project SMART Consortium (OH); and Southwest Pennsylvania Math and Science Collaborative (PA).

The new report offers these participants an unprecedented opportunity to assess the comparative international standing of their students' achievements and to evaluate their math and science programs in an international context. Among the findings:

  • Average performance in mathematics for the 13 Benchmarking states was generally clustered in the middle of the international distribution of results for the 38 countries. In mathematics, all of the Benchmarking states performed either significantly above or similar to the international average, yet signficantly below the five high-performing Asian countries.

  • In science, performance for the 13 states was relatively better than in mathematics, with performance clustered in the upper half of the international distribution. All but three states performed significantly above the international average.

  • In mathematics, students in the Benchmarking jurisdictions generally followed the national pattern of doing relatively less well in measurement and geometry than in fractions and number sense, data representation and algebra. Similarly, they tended to perform relatively less well in physics than in the other science content areas.

The new report not only benchmarks mathematics and science achievement, but also provides a wealth of information on teacher preparation, instructional time and emphases, and disparities in opportunities to learn. Key findings include:

Teacher Preparation

  • Results varied dramatically across the Benchmarking jurisdication concerning the percentages of students taught by mathematics majors, but there was more consistency in the high percentages taught by teachers with education majors. This pattern was the reverse of that found for the five high-performing Asian countries. A similar pattern was found in science, but the picture is complicated by the fact that teachers can major in different science subjects – e.g., biology, physics, or chemistry.

  • Across the Benchmarking entities, the smallest percentage of students with teachers who felt "very well prepared" to teach mathematics was 75 percent – compared to the international average of 63 percent and the overall U.S. average of 87 percent. Teachers were less confident in their preparations to teach science. Just 27 percent in the U.S. felt "very well prepared," with a range across Benchmarking jurisdictions from 56-14 percent.

Instructional Times and Emphases

  • U.S. eighth-graders overall have more hours of instructional time in math and science than students internationally, though teachers in high-performing Naperville and the First in the World Consortium as well as in Korea reported comparatively less amounts of instructional time than many of the other TIMSS participants.

  • In Japan and Korea, more than half of the students were in math and science classes that never had interruptions for announcements or administrative tasks. Among Benchmarking participants, the highest percentage of eighth graders in such classes was in Naperville, but it was only 22 percent for mathematics and 30 percent for science.

  • Benchmarking participants and the U.S. overall reported devoting an unusually large amount of class time to working on homework, particularly in math. Compared to 42 percent internationally, 74 percent of the U.S. eighth graders reported 'almost always' or 'pretty often' beginning homework in math class. This figure ranged from 43 to 90 percent across benchmarking participants.

  • The Benchmarking data show higher math achievement when teachers emphasize reasoning/problem solving activities. This emphasis varied dramatically across Benchmarking participants. At the top end, 41-46 percent of students in Jersey City, First in the World Consortium and Michigan Invitational Group had teachers who reported a high degree of emphasis.

  • Higher science achievement was related to the emphasis teachers place on experiments or practical investigations. There was great variation among Benchmarking participants in the percent of students in science classes with a high degree of emphasis on scientific investigation, from 79 percent in Naperville, more than in any TIMSS 1999 country, to 17 percent in the Delaware Science Coalition.

In general, TIMSS-Benchmarking provides evidence that some U.S. schools are among the best in the world, but that a world-class education is not available to all children, according to Dr. Michael O. Martin and Dr. Ina V.S. Mullis, co-directors of the International Study Center at Boston College.

"Benchmarking jurisdictions with more students from homes with high levels of educational resources were among the top-achievers in TIMSS 1999, and those with the lowest achievement were four urban districts that also had the lowest percentages of students with high levels of home educational resources," said Mullis. "These results go hand in hand with extensive research showing that students in urban districts also often attend schools with fewer resources than in non-urban districts, including a less challenging curriculum and an atmosphere less conducive to learning."

"TIMSS reminds us that there is no 'magic bullet' or single factor that is the answer to higher achievement in mathematics or science," added Martin. "It is clear from the TIMSS results that improving students' opportunities to learn requires examining every aspect of the educational system, including the curriculum, teacher quality, availability of resources, students' motivation, instructional effectiveness, parental support, and school safety."

The largest international study of student achievement ever undertaken, TIMSS is a collaborative research project sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and directed by the International Study Center in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. Researchers and educators from more than 40 research organizations in countries around the world collaborated in the design, development, and implementation of this enormous comparative achievement study, which is supported by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, the National Science Foundation, and the World Bank, among other organizations. Since it began in 1995, TIMSS has provided initial assessments of five grade levels, involving half a million students across more than 40 countries. Previous TIMSS results were released at Boston College in 1996 (7th and 8th grade levels), 1997 (3rd and 4th grade levels), 1998 (final year of secondary school – 12th grade or equivalent) and 2000 (TIMSS-Repeat at the eighth grade level).

Countries participating in the TIMSS-R in 1999 were: Australia, Belgium (Flemish), Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Cyprus, Czech Republic, England, Finland, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Latvia (LSS), Lithuania, Republic of Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.

MEDIA NOTE: The full TIMSS Benchmarking reports will be available on-line at the International Study Center's web site or by calling 617-552-1600. Boston College International Study Co-Directors Michael O. Martin and Ina V.S. Mullis will be available for phone interviews following the news conference on Wednesday, April 4, 2001 from 1-3 p.m. Eastern Time at 202-502-7340 or 202-502-7422.
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