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International comparisons of achievement

Question:
How does the achievement of American students compare to that of students in other countries?

Response:

Reading Literacy at Grade 4

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an international comparative assessment that evaluates reading literacy at grade 4. The assessment is coordinated by the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College with the support of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). PIRLS has been administered every 5 years since 2001. In 2016, there were 58 education systems that had PIRLS reading literacy data at grade 4.1 These 58 education systems included both countries and other benchmarking education systems (portions of a country, nation, kingdom, emirate, or other non-national entity).2 Sixteen of these education systems, including the United States, also administered ePIRLS, a new computer-based extension of PIRLS designed to assess students’ comprehension of online information.

In 2016, the average reading literacy score for fourth-grade students in the United States (549) was higher than the PIRLS scale centerpoint (500).3 The U.S. average score was higher than the average scores of 30 education systems (over half of the participating education systems) and not measurably different from the average scores of 15 education systems. The United States scored lower than 12 education systems: Moscow City (Russian Federation), the Russian Federation, Singapore, Hong Kong (China), Ireland, Finland, Poland, Northern Ireland (United Kingdom), Norway, Chinese Taipei (China), England (United Kingdom), and Latvia.

In 2016, the United States, along with 15 other education systems, participated in the new ePIRLS assessment of students’ comprehension of online information. The average online informational reading score for fourth-grade students in the United States (557) was higher than the ePIRLS scale centerpoint (500). The U.S. average score was higher than the average scores of 10 education systems and not measurably different from the average scores of 2 education systems. Only three education systems (Singapore, Norway, and Ireland) scored higher than the United States.

1 PIRLS was administered in 61 education systems. However, three education systems did not administer PIRLS at the target grade and are not included in this analysis.

2 The IEA differentiates between IEA members, referred to always as “countries,” and “benchmarking participants.” IEA member countries include both “countries,” which are complete, independent political entities, and “other education systems,” or non-national entities (e.g., England, the Flemish community of Belgium). Non-national entities that are not IEA member countries (e.g., Abu Dhabi [United Arab Emirates], Ontario [Canada]) are designated as “benchmarking participants.” These benchmarking systems are able to participate in PIRLS even though they may not be members of the IEA. For convenience, the generic term “education systems” is used when summarizing across results.

3 PIRLS and ePIRLS scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with the scale centerpoint set at 500 and the standard deviation set at 100. The scale centerpoint represents the mean of the overall PIRLS achievement distribution in 2001. The PIRLS scale is the same in each administration; thus a value of 500 in 2016 equals 500 in 2001.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). The Condition of Education 2018 (NCES 2018-144), International Comparisons: Reading Literacy at Grade 4.

U.S. 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-Graders' Mathematics and Science Achievement

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is an international comparative assessment that evaluates mathematics and science knowledge and skills at grades 4 and 8. The TIMSS program also includes TIMSS Advanced, an international comparative study that measures the advanced mathematics and physics achievement of students in their final year of secondary school who are taking or have taken advanced courses. In 2015, TIMSS mathematics and science data were collected by 54 education systems at 4th grade and 43 education systems at 8th grade.1 TIMSS Advanced data were also collected by nine education systems from students in the final year of their secondary schools (in the U.S., 12th-graders). Education systems include countries (complete, independent, and political entities) and other benchmarking education systems (portions of a country, nation, kingdom, or emirate, and other non-national entities).2 In addition to participating in the U.S. national sample, Florida participated individually as a state at the 4th and 8th grades.

At grade 4, the U.S. average mathematics score (539) in 2015 was higher than the TIMSS scale centerpoint (500).3 Ten education systems4 had higher average mathematics scores than the United States, 9 had scores that were not measurably different, and 34 education systems had lower average scores. The 10 education systems with average mathematics scores above the U.S. score were Belgium (Flemish), Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong (China), Ireland, Japan, Northern Ireland (Great Britain), Norway, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and Singapore. Florida's average mathematics score was not measurably different from the U.S. national average.

At grade 4, the U.S. average science score (546) in 2015 was also higher than the TIMSS scale centerpoint of 500. Seven education systems had higher average science scores than the United States, 7 had scores that were not measurably different, and 38 education systems had lower average scores. The 7 education systems with average science scores above the U.S. score were Chinese Taipei, Finland, Japan, Hong Kong (China), the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and Singapore. Florida's average science score was not measurably different from the U.S. national average.

At grade 8, the U.S. average mathematics score (518) in 2015 was higher than the TIMSS scale centerpoint of 500. Eight education systems had higher average mathematics scores than the United States, 10 had scores that were not measurably different, and 24 education systems had lower average scores. The 8 education systems with average mathematics scores above the U.S. score were Canada, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Quebec (Canada), the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and Singapore. Florida's average mathematics score was below the U.S. national average.

At grade 8, the U.S. average science score (530) in 2015 was higher than the TIMSS scale centerpoint of 500. Seven education systems had higher average science scores than the United States, 9 had scores that were not measurably different, and 26 education systems had lower average scores. The seven education systems with average science scores above the U.S. score were Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong (China), Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Singapore, and Slovenia. Florida's average science score was below the U.S. national average.

The TIMSS Advanced assessment measures the advanced mathematics and physics achievement of students in their final year of secondary school who are taking or have taken advanced courses. In TIMSS Advanced, the U.S. average advanced mathematics score (485) in 2015 was lower than the TIMSS Advanced scale centerpoint (500). Two education systems had higher average advanced mathematics scores than the United States, two (Portugal and the Russian Federation) had scores that were not measurably different, and five education systems had lower average scores. The education systems with higher average advanced mathematics scores than the United States were Lebanon and the Russian Federation's intensive track (i.e., advanced students taking 6 or more hours of advanced mathematics per week).5 Such comparisons, however, should take into account the "coverage index," which represents the percentage of students eligible to take the advanced mathematics assessment. The advanced mathematics coverage index ranged from 1.9 percent for the Russian Federation's intensive track to 34.4 percent in Slovenia.

In TIMSS Advanced, the U.S. average physics score (437) in 2015 was lower than the TIMSS Advanced scale centerpoint (500). Four education systems had higher average physics scores than the United States, one (Sweden) had a score that was not measurably different, and three education systems had lower average scores. The education systems with higher average advanced science scores than the United States were from Norway, Portugal, the Russian Federation, and Slovenia. The physics coverage index ranged from 3.9 percent in Lebanon to 21.5 percent in France.

1 Armenia, which participated at both grades, is not included in these counts or the results reported in this Fast Fact because their data are not comparable for trend analyses.

2 Benchmarking systems are able to participate in TIMSS even though they may not be members of the IEA. Participating allows them the opportunity to assess their students' achievement and to evaluate their curricula in an international context.

3 TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with a scale centerpoint set at 500 and the standard deviation set at 100. The TIMSS scale centerpoint represents the mean of the overall achievement distribution in 1995. The TIMSS scale is the same in each administration; thus, a value of 500 in 2015 equals 500 in 1995 when that was the international average.

4 The IEA differentiates between IEA members, referred to always as "countries" and "benchmarking participants." IEA member countries include both "countries," which are complete, independent political entities and "other education systems," or non-national entities (e.g., England, the Flemish community of Belgium). Non-national entities that are not IEA member countries (i.e., Florida, Abu Dhabi) are designated as "benchmarking participants." For convenience, the generic term "education systems" is used when summarizing across results.

5 The Russian Federation tested two samples in advanced mathematics in 2015. Results for students in the intensive mathematics courses of 6 or more hours per week are reported separately from the results for the Russian Federation's advanced students taking courses of only 4.5 hours per week.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). The Condition of Education 2017 (NCES 2017-144), International Comparisons: U.S. 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-Graders' Mathematics and Science Achievement.

Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy of 15-Year-Old Students

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has measured the performance of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics, and science literacy every 3 years since 2000. In 2018, PISA was administered in 791 countries and education systems,2 including all 37 member countries of the OECD. PISA 2018 results are reported by average scale score (from 0 to 1,000).

In 2018, average reading literacy scores ranged from 340 in the Philippines to 555 in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang (B-S-J-Z) (China). The U.S. average reading score (505) was higher than the OECD average score (487). Compared to the 76 other education systems in PISA 2018, the U.S. average reading literacy score was lower than the average in 8 education systems, higher than the average in 57 education systems, and not measurably different from the average in 11 education systems.

In mathematics literacy, average scores in 2018 ranged from 325 in the Dominican Republic to 591 in B-S-J-Z (China). The U.S. average mathematics score (478) was lower than the OECD average score (489). Compared to the 77 other education systems in PISA 2018, the U.S. average mathematics literacy score was lower than the average in 30 education systems, higher than the average in 39 education systems, and not measurably different from the average in 8 education systems.

Average scores in science literacy in 2018 ranged from 336 in the Dominican Republic to 590 in B-S-J-Z (China). The U.S. average science score (502) was higher than the OECD average score (489). Compared to the 77 other education systems in PISA 2018, the U.S. average science literacy score was lower than the average in 11 education systems, higher than the average in 55 education systems, and not measurably different from the average in 11 education systems.

1Although Spain’s PISA 2018 data meet international technical standards, its reading literacy data show unusual student response behavior that prevent them from being reported at this time. Although Vietnam participated in PISA 2018, technical problems with its data prevent results from being discussed. Therefore, results are presented for 77 education systems for reading literacy and 78 education systems for mathematics and science literacy.

2 For the purposes of this Fast Fact, "education systems" refers to all entities participating in PISA, including countries as well as subnational entities (e.g., cities or provinces).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). The Condition of Education 2020 (NCES 2020-144), International Comparisons: Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy of 15-Year-Old Students; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Highlights of U.S. PISA 2018 Results Web Report (NCES 2020-166).

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