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Indicator 5: Reading, Mathematics, and Science Performance of Fourth-Grade Students

G-20 Countries Included: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom (England and Northern Ireland), United States

At the high-performing end of the PIRLS 2011 reading literacy scale, 19 percent of fourth-grade students in the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) and the Russian Federation, 18 percent in the United Kingdom (England), and 17 percent in the United States scored at or above the Advanced international benchmark.

Indicator 5 draws on data from PIRLS 201 and TIMSS 201 to describe fourth-grade students' performance in reading, math- ematics, and science in terms of four international achievement benchmarks (Low, Intermediate, High, and Advanced), which were established to describe the knowledge and skills that students display at different points on a performance scale (described in "Definitions and Methodology" below). For each subject, the indicator first describes the percentage of students reaching at least the Intermediate level of performance. Next, the indicator describes the percentage of students reaching the highest international benchmark (Advanced), followed by the percentage reaching only the Low benchmark.

In reading in 2011, at least three-quarters of fourth-grade students in 9 out of 11 G-20 countries scored at least at the Intermediate international benchmark (that is, at Intermediate, High, or Advanced), including 86 percent of U.S. students (figure 5-1). At the high-performing end of the scale, 19 percent of fourth-grade students in the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) and the Russian Federation, 18 percent in the United Kingdom (England), and 17 percent in the United States reached the Advancedinternational benchmark. Seven countries had smaller percentages of students reaching the advanced level than the United States, ranging from less than 1 percent in Indonesia to 13 percent in Canada. At the opposite end of the scale, the United States had among the smallest percentages of students reaching only the Low international benchmark (11 percent), with only the Russian Federation having a smaller percentage (7 percent) and the percentages in the remaining countries ranging from 10 to 38 percent. In Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, over one-third of the students did not reach the Low international benchmark. In mathematics in 2011, at least three-quarters of fourth-grade students in 7 out of 1 G-20 countries reached the Intermedi- ate international benchmark or higher, including 81 percent of U.S. students (figure 5-1). At the Advanced benchmark, the Republic of Korea and Japan stand out, with 39 and 30 percent of students, respectively, at this level. In addition to these two countries, the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) (24 percent) and the United Kingdom (England) (18 percent) had higher percentages at the Advanced benchmark than the United States (13 percent). The Russian Federation also had 13 percent, and five countries had lower percentages. At the Low benchmark, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) had lower percentages of students—all at 1 percent or less—than the United States (15 percent). The U.S. percentage was similar to those in the Russian Federation (15 percent), the United Kingdom (England) (16 percent), and Germany (17 percent). Four countries had higher percentages than the United States, ranging from 20 percent in Australia to 31 percent in Saudi Arabia. Forty-five percent of students in Saudi Arabia did not reach the Low international benchmark.

In science in 2011, three-quarters or more of fourth-grade students in 7 out of 11 G-20 countries reached at least the Intermediate international benchmark, including 81 percent of U.S. students (figure 5-1). At the Advanced international bench- mark, the Republic of Korea had the largest percentage of students (29 percent). The United States had 15 percent of students at this level, similar to the Russian Federation (16 percent) and Japan (14 percent) and ahead of seven countries, in which the percentages ranged from 3 percent in Saudi Arabia and Turkey to 1 percent in the United Kingdom (England). At the Low international bench- mark, the Republic of Korea and Japan had the lowest percentage of students (under 10 percent each). Fourteen percent of students in the United States reached only this benchmark, similar to the Russian Federation (12 percent) and ahead of the remaining countries, in which the percentages ranged from 18 percent in Germany and the United Kingdom (England) to 28 percent in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Thirty-seven percent of students in Saudi Arabia did not reach the Low international benchmark.


Definitions and Methodologie

In PIRLS 201 and TIMSS 201 at the fourth grade, countries were required to sample students in the grade that corresponded to the end of 4 years of formal schooling, providing that the mean age at the time of testing was at least 9.5 years. As defined by PIRLS and TIMSS, the first year of formal schooling begins with the first year of primary school (ISCED97 level 1), which should mark the beginning of formal instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics. (Note that kindergarten is not counted.) For most countries, the target grade was fourth grade or its national equivalent.

PIRLS and TIMSS scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000, with the scale average fixed at 500 and the standard deviation fixed at 100. Since both the PIRLS and TIMSS achievement scales were designed to reliably measure student achievement over time, the metric of the scales was established originally in 2001 for PIRLS and 1995 for TIMSS, the first year in which each assessment was administered.

In order to describe concretely the knowledge and skills displayed along the performance scales, PIRLS and TIMSS established four international achievement benchmarks (Low, Intermediate, High, and Advanced). Information about the rationale underlying the benchmarks and the procedures used to set the cutpoints is available in Methods and Procedures in TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 (Martin and Mullis 2013). Four points on the scales were identified for use as international benchmarks: 400 for the Low benchmark, 475 for the Intermediate benchmark, 550 for the High benchmark, and 625 for the Advanced benchmark. These were selected to represent the range of performance shown by students internationally.

Fourth-grade students at the Low benchmark display basic reading skills, such as retrieving explicitly stated details from literary and informational texts. Students at the Intermediatebenchmark demonstrate some reading proficiency. They can identify central events, plot sequences, and relevant story details and make some inferences and connections across parts of the text. At the High benchmark, students are competent readers who can recognize some textual features, such as figurative language and abstract messages. They can make inferences on the basis of abstract or embedded information and integrate information to recognize main ideas and provide explanations. Students at the Advanced benchmark demonstrate the highest level of reading proficienc . They can interpret figurative language, distinguish and interpret complex information from different parts of text, and integrate ideas across text to provide interpretations about characters' intentions and feelings.

At the fourth-grade level in mathematics, students at the Low benchmark have some basic mathematical knowledge, such as an understanding of whole numbers and the properties of basic geometric shapes. At the Intermediate benchmark, students can apply basic mathematical knowledge in straightforward situations, such as performing operations with 3- and 4-digit numbers and decimals and extending simple patterns. At the High benchmark, students can apply their knowledge and understanding to solve multistep word problems involving addition, multipli- cation, and division and problems requiring the use of data in tables and graphs. Students at the Advanced benchmark can apply their understanding and knowledge in a wide variety of relatively complex situations to solve problems involving fractions, decimals, proportions, area, and rotation.

At the fourth-grade level in science, students at the Low bench- mark have some elementary knowledge of the Earth, life, and physical sciences, such as simple facts about human health, ecosystems, and the behavioral and physical characteristics of animals. At the Intermediate benchmark, students can apply basic knowledge and understanding to practical situations in the sciences, such as knowing some basic information related to the characteristics of living things, their reproduction and life cycles, and their interaction with the environment. At the High benchmark, students can apply knowledge and understanding to explain everyday phenomena, such as demonstrating some knowledge of life processes, the solar system, and properties of matter. Students at the Advanced benchmark can apply know- ledge and understanding in beginning scientific inquiry, such as demonstrating understanding of the properties of light and relationships among physical properties of materials.

In each of the assessments, there may be students who do not reach the Low benchmark, indicating that their abilities could not be described based on their responses. These students are indicated by the percentages for Below Low in the figures and are referred to as those not reaching the Low benchmark in the text.

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