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National Center for Education Statistics

New Data From the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

How do U.S. students compare to their international peers? A look at the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study at 4th and 8th-grade

By Lydia Malley

In today’s interconnected world, it is important to understand the skills of students in the U.S. relative to their international peers. To this end, NCES participates in a number of international assessments. Results from one of these assessments, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), were released on November 29th. Our new report, Highlights from TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced 2015, compares the mathematics and science performance of U.S. fourth- and eighth-grade to that of their peers in over 60 countries or education systems across 6 continents. This report also presents results from TIMSS Advanced, which assessed the advanced mathematics and physics knowledge and skills of twelfth-graders in 9 countries. The results from TIMSS Advanced are discussed more in depth in a forthcoming blog post.

 

TIMSS results show that the mathematic scores of U.S. fourth- and eighth-grade students have improved over time, while science scores have held relatively steady. TIMSS is designed to measure trends in mathematics and science achievement. Conducted every 4 years, TIMSS 2015 represents the sixth such study since TIMSS was first conducted in 1995.

Among the report’s key findings:

Fourth-grade mathematics:

  • Fourth-grade mathematics performance in the United States has improved since 1995.
  • Among 54 education systems that participated in the most recent TIMSS, average scores in 10 systems were higher than the U.S. average, 9 education systems were not measurably different from the U.S. average, and average scores in 34 systems were lower than the U.S. average.

Eighth-grade mathematics:

  • The eighth-grade average mathematics score of the United States in 2015 was higher than in any prior administration of TIMSS, since the first administration in 1995.
  • Among 43 education systems, average scores in 8 systems were higher than the U.S. average, 10 education systems were not measurably different from the U.S. average, and average scores in 24 systems were lower than the U.S. average.

Fourth-grade science:

  • Fourth-grade science performance in the United States in 2015 was not measurably different from the performance in 1995 or 2011.
  • Among 53 education systems that participated in the 2015 TIMSS, average scores in 7 systems were higher than the U.S. average, 7 education systems were not measurably different from the U.S. average, and average scores in 38 systems were lower than the U.S. average.

Eighth-grade science: U.S. eighth-graders’ average science score increased between 1995 and 2015, although the scores in the most recent years (2011 and 2015) were not measurably different.

  • Among 43 education systems, in 2015 average scores in 7 systems were higher than the U.S. average, in 9 education systems the average scores were not measurably different from the U.S. average, and average scores in 26 systems were lower than the U.S. average.

Results by Gender:

  • Males scored 7 points higher than females in fourth-grade mathematics, and eighth-grade mathematics scores for males and females were not measurably different.
  • Males scored four points higher than females in fourth-grade science and five points higher in eighth-grade science.



TIMSS is designed to align broadly with mathematics and science curricula in the participating education systems and, therefore, to reflect students’ school-based learning. TIMSS also collects information about educational contexts (such as students’ schools and teachers) that may be related to students’ achievement.

The full report is available at https://nces.ed.gov/timss/. In addition, TIMSS results are now easier than ever to access, with more than 60 tables and figures, reports, detailed descriptions of the assessments, technical notes and more available on the TIMSS 2015 website, at http://nces.ed.gov/timss/timss2015/.

TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced are sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and managed in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Education and Training Opportunities in America’s Prisons

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, Institute of Education Sciences

The latest results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) reinforce some of what we know about the connection between education and incarceration—adults in prison, on average, have less formal education and lower literacy and numeracy skills than adults living in U.S. households.  But what about the education and training adults receive while in prison?

A recent publication—Highlights from the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults—provides information about the education and training that is received inside prison walls, in addition to providing data on the skills of incarcerated adults. This information is important because more than half of the prisoners surveyed (54 percent) were scheduled to be released within two years of their participating in PIAAC and most will likely try to enter the work force.

A look at PIAAC

The PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults was conducted in 2014 and involved a representative sample of 1,300 prisoners who took assessments in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Most of them also completed a questionnaire that asked about their demographics and educational attainment, among other things. The results were compared to non-incarcerated adults in U.S. households who took the same assessments and completed a similar questionnaire as part of the national PIAAC program.  

The results show that 30 percent of incarcerated adults had attained less than a high school diploma—twice the percentage for U.S. households (14 percent). And more incarcerated adults scored at the lowest levels in both the literacy and numeracy assessments (see chart).


SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, U.S. National Supplement: Prison Study 2014, PIAAC 2012/14


Education and Training in Prison

The survey results show that at least some of the prisoners had opportunities to work, take academic classes, and receive job training and certification during their current incarceration. About 61 percent of those surveyed reported having a job in prison. But many prisoners reported that their jobs “never” needed them to use the type of literacy and numeracy skills which are important in the work force.

For instance, nearly half (47 percent) of incarcerated adults with jobs reported “never” reading directions or instructions as part of their current prison job, and 82 percent reported “never” working with fractions, decimals, or percentages. By comparison, in the household population surveyed as part of PIAAC, approximately 12 percent of adults reported “never” reading directions or instructions as part of their current job, and 34 percent reported “never” working with fractions, decimals, or percentages.

In terms of education, 70 percent of prisoners who were not currently taking an academic class or program said they wanted to participate in one. Among those prisoners, the programs they most wanted to participate in were to earn a certificate from a college or trade school (29 percent), a high school diploma/GED (18 percent), an Associate’s degree (18 percent), a Bachelor’s degree (14 percent), and a pre-associate education (13 percent).

However, despite the high interest in academic programs, most prisoners surveyed (58 percent) had not furthered their education during their current incarceration (see chart).


# Rounds to zero.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, U.S. National Supplement: Prison Study 2014, PIAAC 2012/14


Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of prisoners surveyed said they had participated in some type of job training during their current incarceration and another 14 percent were on a waiting list for such training. Among those who participating in job training, 63 percent said self-improvement was an important reason for participating and 43 percent said it was to improve their post-incarceration job opportunities (respondents could choose more than one answer).

Of those who had not participated in training and were not on the wait list, 30 percent said they were not eligible to attend, 19 percent said they were not interested in the programs offered, and 11 percent said they did not have the necessary qualifications.

The results of the 2014 PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults provide a tremendous amount of information that can inform the work of researchers, policymakers, and others who are interested in the skills, education, and training of America’s prison population. Anyone interested in exploring these data can do so online through the International Data Explorer (IDE) at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/international/ide/. For more information on PIAAC, please go to http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/.

 

Measuring the Homeschool Population

By Sarah Grady

How many children are educated at home instead of school? Although many of our data collections focus on what happens in public or private schools, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tries to capture as many facets of education as possible, including the number of homeschooled youth and the characteristics of this population of learners. NCES was one of the first organizations to attempt to estimate the number of homeschoolers in the United States using a rigorous sample survey of households. The Current Population Survey included homeschooling questions in 1994, which helped NCES refine its approach toward measuring homeschooling.[i] As part of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), NCES published homeschooling estimates starting in 1999. The homeschooling rate has grown from 1.7 percent of the school-aged student population in 1999 to 3.4 percent in 2012.[ii]

NCES recently released a Statistical Analysis Report called Homeschooling in the United States: 2012. Findings from the report, detailed in a recent blog, show that there is a diverse group of students who are homeschooled. Although NCES makes every attempt to report data on homeschooled students, this diversity can make it difficult to accurately measure all facets of the homeschool population.

One of the primary challenges in collecting relevant data on homeschool students is that no complete list of homeschoolers exists, so it can be difficult to locate these individuals. When lists of homeschoolers can be located, problems exist with the level of coverage that they provide. For example, lists of members of local and national homeschooling organizations do not include homeschooling families unaffiliated with the organizations. Customer lists from homeschool curriculum vendors exclude families who access curricula from other sources such as the Internet, public libraries, and general purpose bookstores. For these reasons, collecting data about homeschooling requires a nationally representative household survey, which begins by finding households in which at least one student is homeschooled.

Once located, families can vary in their interpretation of what homeschooling is. NCES asks households if anyone in the household is “currently in homeschool instead of attending a public or private school for some or all classes.” About 18 percent of homeschoolers are in a brick-and-mortar school part-time, and families may vary in the extent to which they consider children in school part-time to be homeschoolers. Additionally, with the growth of virtual education and cyber schools, some parents are choosing to have the child schooled at home but not to personally provide instruction. Whether or not parents of students in cyber schools define their child as homeschooled likely varies from family to family.

NHES data collection begins with a random sample of addresses distributed across the entire U.S. However, most addresses will not contain any homeschooled students. Because of the low incidence of homeschooling relative to the U.S. population, a large number of households must be screened to find homeschooling students.  This leaves us with a small number of completed surveys from homeschooling families relative to studies of students in brick-and-mortar schools. For example, in 2012, the NHES program contacted 159,994 addresses and ended with 397 completed homeschooling surveys.

Smaller analytic samples can often result in less precise estimates. Therefore, NCES can estimate only the size of the total homeschool population and some key characteristics of homeschoolers with confidence, but we are not able to accurately report data for very small subgroups. For example, NCES can report the distribution of homeschoolers by race and ethnicity,[iii] but more specific breakouts of the characteristics of homeschooled students within these racial/ethnic groups often cannot be reported due to the small sample sizes and large standard errors. For a more comprehensive explanation of this issue, please see our blog post on standard errors.  The reason why this matters is that local-level research on homeschooling families suggests that homeschooling communities across the country may be very diverse.[iv] For example, Black, urban homeschooling families in these studies are often very different from White, rural homeschooling families. Low incidence and high heterogeneity lead to estimates with lower precision.

Despite these constraints, the data from NHES continue to be the most comprehensive that we have on homeschoolers. NCES continues to collect data on this important population. The 2016 NHES recently completed collection on homeschooling students, and those data will be released in fall 2017.

[i] Henke, R., Kaufman, P. (2000). Issues Related to Estimating the Home-school Population in the United States with National Household Survey Data (NCES 2000-311). National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences. U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

[ii] Redford, J., Battle, D., and Bielick, S. (2016). Homeschooling in the United States: 2012 (NCES 2016-096). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

[iv] Hanna, L.G. (2012). Homeschooling Education: Longitudinal Study of Methods, Materials, and Curricula. Education and Urban Society 44(5): 609–631.

Bullying Down From a Decade Ago, but Unchanged Since 2013

By Lauren Musu-Gillette, Rachel Hansen, and Maura Spiegelman

Bullying prevention is a topic of perennial interest to policy makers, administrators, and educators, as well as students and their families. Data is a key component of measuring progress in a given area and NCES is committed to providing reliable and timely data on important topics such as bullying. NCES recently released a new report with data on bullying; Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results From the 2015 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

The School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey collects data on bullying by asking students ages 12–18 if they had been bullied at school during the school year. The percentage of students who reported being bullied at school during the school year decreased from 28 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2015. Similarly, the percentage of male students who reported being bullied at school decreased from 27 percent to 19 percent during the same time period. While the downward trend was not significant for female students, a smaller percentage reported being bullied in 2015 than in 2005 (29 vs. 23 percent). Additionally, the percentage of females who reported being bullied was higher than the percentage of males in most years that data were available (the exceptions were 2005 and 2009 when the percentages were not measurably different).  

However, as you can see in the graph below, most of the decline—overall and for males and females—occurred between 2007 and 2013. For the past two years, the percentages have been relatively unchanged.


Percentage of students, ages 12–18, who reported being bullied at school during the school year: Selected years, 2005 through 2015

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2005 through 2015. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 230.40.


In 2015, higher percentages of Black students (25 percent) and White students (22 percent) reported being bullied in comparison to Hispanic students (17 percent). A greater percentage of students in 6th grade (31 percent) reported being bullied than students in grades 8–12, where reports of bullying ranged between 15 percent and 22 percent. No measurable differences were observed in the percentage of private and public school students who reported being bullied at school.

The frequency of bullying is another factor that is measured in the SCS. In 2015, about 67 percent of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they were bullied once or twice in the school year. About one-third (33 percent) indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month, with 10 percent of these students reporting being bullied once or twice a week and 4 percent reporting they were bullied every day.

Additional data from the 2015 report can be found in the tables in the report. These tables contain additional information on bullying-related topics such as types of bullying, and fear and avoidance behaviors at school.

A Look at Private Schools and Homeschooling

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, Institute of Education Sciences

Much of the data you will find on the NCES website is related to public schools. It makes sense because a majority of students do attend public schools and those schools are required to gather and report a lot of information. Still, NCES does collect a significant amount of information about non-public elementary and secondary schools and a more limited amount of information about homeschooling.

Two recently released NCES reports provide information about other types of educational programs that serve millions of students—private schools and homeschooling. 

Private Schools

Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States provides a first look at data from the 2013-14 Private School Universe Survey, which is conducted every two years to gather information about the schools that approximately 10 percent of elementary and secondary students attend. This report, released on Nov 1, provides a tremendous amount of information, such as the number, type, and religious affiliation of private schools, as well as data about enrollment and programs offered.

The report shows that there were 33,619 private schools in 2013-14, serving 4.6 million students. The majority of these schools—about 69 percent—had a religious affiliation and 68 percent were located either in cities or suburbs, rather than towns or rural areas.


Source: Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States: Results From the 2013-14 Private School Universe Survey: National Center for Education Statistics, November 2016


The new report also provides a look at the percent of seniors who graduate and the subsequent postsecondary enrollment of students in private schools and breaks that information down by a number of categories. In 2012-13, slightly more than a quarter (26 percent) of private schools had students in 12th grade, and the graduation rate at those schools was 97 percent. The graduation rate was highest (99 percent) in schools with 750 or more students and lowest (83 percent) in schools with fewer than 50 students.  

Of 2012-13 private school graduates, 65 percent attended a four-year college by fall 2013, but there was wide variance in that rate by school type and location. For instance, 85 percent of graduates who attended Catholic schools enrolled in college by fall 2013, while the percentage was lower for students who attended other religious private schools (63 percent) and nonsectarian schools (56 percent). The four-year college enrollment rate was higher in schools that were located in the city (69 percent) and suburbs (66 percent) and lower in schools in towns (61 percent) and rural areas (58 percent).

Homeschooling

Homeschooling in the United States: 2012 estimates the number and percentage of homeschooled students in the U.S. in 2012 and compares that with estimates from previous years (1999, 2003, and 2007). It also provides demographic characteristics of homeschoolers and information about the reasons parents chose to homeschool their children and where they get curricular materials. The data come from responses to the Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey that is part of the National Household Education Survey Program.

The report shows that, in 2012, there were approximately 1.8 million students who were homeschooled, representing about 3.4 percent of all students, ages 5-17, enrolled in elementary or secondary grades. Since 1999, the percentage of students who are homeschooled has doubled, with significant increases seen between 1999 and 2003 and 2003 and 2007. 


* - Statistically adjusted

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Parent Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), 1999; Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the NHES, 2003, 2007, and 2012


When asked why they chose to homeschool their children, 25 percent parents said the most important reason was concern about the environment at other schools, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure. Other parents said the most important reasons were dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at other schools (19 percent) and a desire to provide religious instruction (17 percent). About 21 percent of parents said there were other reasons, such as family time, finances, travel, and distance.

The report also provides information about how parents accessed the curriculum and books they used for homeschooling. Non-retail website and homeschooling catalogs, providers, or specialists were the most reported sources at 77 percent each, followed by the public library (70 percent), and retail bookstores or other stores (69 percent). Other significant sources were education materials were publishers not affiliated with homeschooling (53 percent), homeschooling organization (45 percent), and church, synagogue, or other religious organization (38 percent).