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International Comparisons in Science and Math

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003 is the third comparison of mathematics and science achievement carried out since 1995. The first part of this indicator highlights initial findings on the performance of U.S. fourth- and eighth-grade students relative to their peers in other countries on the TIMSS assessment.

In 2003, U.S. fourth-grade students scored 518, on average, in mathematics, exceeding the international average of 495 (table 1). U.S. fourth-graders outperformed their peers in 13 of the other 24 participating countries, and performed lower than their peers in 11 countries.

Fourth-graders in the United States scored 536, on average, on the TIMSS science assessment, which was higher than the international average of 489 (table 2). Of the 24 other participating countries, fourth-graders in 16 countries demonstrated lower science scores, on average, than fourth-graders in the United States, while students in 3 countries outperformed their peers in the United States.

Table 1. Average mathematics scale scores of fourth-grade students, by country: 2003


Average mathematics scale scores of fourth-grade students, by country: 2003

1Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China.
2Met international guidelines for participation rates in 2003 only after replacement schools were included.
3National desired population does not cover all of the international desired population.
NOTE: Countries are ordered by 2003 average score. The test for significance between the United States and the international average was adjusted to account for the U.S. contribution to the international average. Countries were required to sample students in the upper of the two grades that contained the largest number of 9-year-olds. In the United States and most countries, this corresponds to grade 4. See table A1 in appendix A for details.
SOURCE: Table 2 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Highlights From the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003, NCES 2005–005, by Patrick Gonzales, Juan Carlos Guzman, Lisette Partelow, Erin Pahlke, Leslie Jocelyn, David Kastberg, and Trevor Williams.


Table 2: Average science scale scores of fourth-grade students, by country: 2003

Average science scale scores of fourth-grade students, by country: 2003
1Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China.
2Met international guidelines for participation rates in 2003 only after replacement schools were included.
3National desired population does not cover all of the international desired population.
NOTE: The test for significance between the United States and the international average was adjusted to account for the U.S. contribution to the international average. The tests for significance take into account the standard error for the reported difference. Thus, a small difference between the United States and one country may be significant while a large difference between the United States and another country may not be significant. Countries were required to sample students in the upper of the two grades that contained the largest number of 9-year-olds. In the United States and most countries, this corresponds to grade 4. See table A1 in appendix A for details.
SOURCE: Table 8 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Highlights From the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003, NCES 2005–005, by Patrick Gonzales, Juan Carlos Guzman, Lisette Partelow, Erin Pahlke, Leslie Jocelyn, David Kastberg, and Trevor Williams.

In 2003, U.S. eighth-graders scored 504, on average, in mathematics. This average score exceeded the international average as well as the average scores of their peers in 25 of the 44 other participating countries (not shown in tables). U.S. eighth-graders were outperformed by students in nine countries: five Asian countries (Chinese Tapei, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Korea, and Singapore) and four European countries (Belgium-Flemish, Estonia, Hungary, and the Netherlands).

In science, U.S. eighth-graders exceeded the international average and outperformed their peers in 32 of the 44 other participating countries (not shown in tables). U.S. eighth-graders performed lower, on average, than their peers in seven countries. Eighth-graders in the five Asian countries that outperformed U.S. eighth-graders in mathematics in 2003 also outperformed U.S. eighth-graders in science in 2003, with eighth-graders in Estonia and Hungary performing better than U.S. students in mathematics and science as well.

Both Black and Hispanic eighth-grade students in the United States demonstrated improvement in mathematics achievement between 1995 and 2003 (figure 1). Both Black and Hispanic eighth-grade students in the United States demonstrated improvement in their average science achievement between 1995 and 2003, and between 1999 and 2003 (figure 2).

Figure 1. Average mathematics scale scores of U.S. eighth-grade students, by race/ethnicity: 1995, 1999, and 2003


Average mathematics scale scores of U.S. eighth-grade students, by race/ethnicity: 1995, 1999, and 2003

*p <.05, denotes a significant difference from 2003 average score.
NOTE: Reporting standards not met for Asian category in 1995 or 1999. Reporting standards not met for American Indian or Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander in 1995, 1999, and 2003. Racial categories exclude Hispanic origin. Other races/ethnicities are included in U.S. totals shown throughout the report. Analyses by poverty level are limited to students in public schools only. The tests for significance take into account the standard error for the reported difference. Thus, a small difference between averages for one student group may be significant while a large difference for another student group may not be significant. The United States met international guidelines for participation rates in 2003 only after replacement schools were included. See appendix A for more information.
SOURCE: Figure 2 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Highlights From the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003, NCES 2005–005, by Patrick Gonzales, Juan Carlos Guzman, Lisette Partelow, Erin Pahlke, Leslie Jocelyn, David Kastberg, and Trevor Williams.

Figure 2. Average science scale scores of U.S. fourth-grade students, by race/ethnicity: 1995 and 2003


Average science scale scores of U.S. fourth-grade students, by race/ethnicity: 1995 and 2003

*p <.05, denotes a significant difference from 2003 average score.
NOTE: Reporting standards not met for Asian category in 1995 and American Indian or Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander for both years. Racial categories exclude Hispanic origin. Other races/ethnicities are included in U.S. totals shown throughout the report. Analyses by poverty level are limited to students in public schools only. The tests for significance take into account the standard error for the reported difference. Thus, a small difference between averages for one student group may be significant while a large difference for another student group may not be significant. The United States met international guidelines for participation rates in 2003 only after replacement schools were included. See appendix A for more information.
SOURCE: Figure 3 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Highlights From the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003, NCES 2005–005, by Patrick Gonzales, Juan Carlos Guzman, Lisette Partelow, Erin Pahlke, Leslie Jocelyn, David Kastberg, and Trevor Williams.

Table 3. Average combined mathematics literacy scores of 15-year-old students, by country: 2003


Average combined mathematics literacy scores of 15-year-old students, by country: 2003

NOTE: Statistical comparisons between the U.S. average and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average take into account the contribution of the U.S. average toward the OECD average. The OECD average is the average of the national averages of the OECD member countries with data available. Because the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is principally an OECD study, the results for non-OECD countries are displayed separately from those of the OECD countries and are not included in the OECD average. Due to low response rates, data for the United Kingdom are not discussed in this report.
SOURCE: Table 2 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. International Outcomes of Learning in Mathematics Literacy and Problem Solving: PISA 2003 Results from the U.S. Perspective, NCES 2005–003, by Lemke, M., Sen, A., Pahlke, E., Partelow, L., Miller, D., Williams, T., Kastberg, D., and Jocelyn, L.

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