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Indicator 12: Changes in the Reading, Mathematics, and Science Performance of Fourth-Grade Students

G-20 Countries Included: Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, United Kingdom (England and Scotland), United States

In Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom (England), and the United States, fourth-graders' mean scores in mathematics increased between 1995 and 2011, ranging from an increase of 18 points in Japan to 58 points in the United Kingdom (England).

PIRLS and TIMSS are both conducted on regular cycles— PIRLS every 5 years since 2001 and TIMSS every 4 years since 1995—in order to provide information on changes in student performance. Using these data, Indicator 12 examines how fourth-grade mean student performance in reading, mathematics, and science has changed over time, using the next most recent and the initial assessment years of the respective assessments as comparison points to the most recent assessment year. For each of the three subjects examined in the indicator (reading, mathematics, and science), the indicator first identifies the countries in which there have been changes in students' mean performance and then describes the time period or periods over which that change occurred.

In reading, of the eight G-20 countries participating in at least two cycles of PIRLS, the mean scores of fourth-grade students in reading literacy were measurably different in 201 than in at least one previous cycle (2001 or 2006) in six countries (figure 12-1). The mean scores of students in Indonesia, the United Kingdom (England), and the United States increased between 2006 and 2011, and in the Russian Federation between 2001 and 2011. The mean scores of students in Germany and Italy decreased between 2006 and 2011. The U.S. mean score in reading literacy in 201 (556) was higher than the U.S. mean scores in both 2001 (542) and 2006 (540).

In mathematics, there were measurable differences in fourth-grade students' performance in 201 from at least one previous cycle in five of the nine G-20 countries participating in at least two cycles of TIMSS (figure 12-1). In all five countries—Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom (England), and the United States—mean scores in mathematics increased between 1995 and 2011, ranging from an increase of 18 points in Japan to 58 points in the United Kingdom (England). In the United States, the difference was 23 points. Additionally, the mean scores of students in Japan and the United States increased from 568 and 529, respectively, in 2007 to 585 and 541, respectively, in 2011.

In science, fourth-grade students' mean scores in TIMSS decreased from 2007 to 201 by 12, 11, and 13 points in Australia, Italy, and the United Kingdom (England), respectively (figure 12-1). Over the longer time period of 1995 to 2011, students' mean scores increased by 6 points in Japan and 11 points in the Republic of Korea. The mean score of U.S. students in 201 was not measurably different from that in 1995 or 2007.

Looking across the subject areas, the mean scores of fourth-grade students in the United States in 201 were higher than in 2006 for reading literacy and higher than in 1995 and 2007 for mathematics. U.S. students' scores did not change measurably in science.


Definitions and Methodologie

In PIRLS 2011 and TIMSS 2011 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 with the 2001 assessment (for PIRLS) and the 1995 assessment (for TIMSS) the first year in which each assessment was administered.

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