American fourth-graders are performing much better compared to students in other countries than they did four years ago, according to data released as part of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The same didn’t seem to hold true for older students, who lagged substantially when compared to their international peers, especially in mathematics and science.
Jack Buckley, the commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, which was charged with administering the international exam in the United States, said that the findings about the slow-down of academic improvement in older students was disheartening. Even when taking into account the fact that individual states have improved substantially over the past four years, the international lag remains sizable and obvious.
With an eye toward global competitiveness, U.S. education officials are sounding the alarm over what they describe as a recurring theme when American students are put to the test. Lamenting what he described as “sober cautionary notes,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said it was unacceptable that eighth-grade achievement in math and science are stagnant, with U.S. students far less likely than many Asian counterparts to reach advanced levels in science.
One of the people sounding the alarm loudest is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who said that without a quick turnaround, America risks being out-competed by other countries in an economy that prizes knowledge over brawn.
American students outperformed the average, but that wasn’t the case across every state. The parts of the country where the average income level is low substantially underperformed compared to states with higher average incomes. But both rich and poor, American fourth-graders lagged students from countries like Finland and Singapore — who have enjoyed front-runner status on international exams for more than a decade.
The picture is even more dire for American 8th graders, who tested worse than their peers in Japan, Russia and Taiwan.
The results of the study, conducted every four years in nations around the world, show mixed prospects for delivering on that promise. A nation that once took pride in being at the top of its game can no longer credibly call itself the global leader in student performance. Wringing their hands about what that reality portends for broader U.S. influence, policymakers worry it could have ripple effects on the economy down the line, with Americans increasingly at a competitive disadvantage in the international marketplace.