Brookings Institution has released the 12th edition of its annual Brown Center Report which examines the state of education in the United States. This year’s report examines the results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study results, two sources not only for data on American students, but also for information on how they stack up against their international peers.
The report is broken into three parts, with the first part looking at how countries that have been considered among the “A+” for their performance the first time the TIMSS was administered in 1995 are performing today.
Finland, which has improved its performance on every prior TIMSS, has registered a decline for the first time this year. This spells good news for the U.S. because that means the gap between the two countries has narrowed with America pulling level with Finland in 8th-grade mathematics.
Part I offers “A Progress Report on the A+ Countries,” and finds that, surprisingly, three of the six have registered statistically significant declines since 1995. Despite that, most of the A+ countries still score among the world’s leaders.
The exception is the Czech Republic, which scored at approximately the international average the last time it took TIMSS in 2007.
Part two of the report tackles long-simmering issues in education, with this year’s topics being “tracking and ability grouping.” The data used for this part comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which reports that number of schools who have now turned to ability grouping has grown, especially in fourth grade. This means that grouping now takes place earlier, with 3/4th of students finding themselves grouped by math and reading ability by 8th grade.
This marks a philosophical turnaround for schools, which have – after many decades of embracing the practice – turned away from it in the recent years. Ability grouping declined substantially in the 90s, but it appears that it’s coming back in to favor.
Part III is on a prominent policy or program. This year’s analysis is on the national push for eighth graders to take algebra and other high school math courses. Algebra is now the single most popular math course in eighth grade. The study in Part III uses state variation in enrollment rates to ask the question: what has happened to the NAEP scores of states that boosted their eighth-grade advanced-math enrollments? The study uncovers no relationship between change in state NAEP scores and change in enrollments. States boosting advanced math taking are no more likely to show NAEP gains than other states.