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Peggy G. Carr, Ph.D.
Acting Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics

NCES Statement on TIMSS 2015
November 29, 2016

Commissioner Peggy G. Carr's Briefing Slides MS PowerPoint (10.73 MB)

Today, the National Center for Education Statistics is releasing results on the performance of students in the United States on the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and a companion study, known as TIMSS Advanced, of students in the final year of secondary school who are enrolled in advanced mathematics or physics courses. These cross-national comparative studies are coordinated by the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College, under the auspices of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, or IEA, an international organization of national research institutions and governmental research agencies.

TIMSS assesses the mathematics and science knowledge and skills of fourth- and eighth-graders and is designed to align broadly with mathematics and science curricula in the participating countries. The results, therefore, suggest the degree to which students have learned mathematics and science concepts and skills likely taught in school. TIMSS also collects background information on students, teachers, and schools to allow cross-national comparison of educational contexts that may be related to student achievement.

TIMSS Advanced is the only international assessment that measures the knowledge of students enrolled in advanced mathematics and physics courses. TIMSS Advanced also collects background information on students, teachers, and schools to allow cross-national comparison of educational contexts that may be related to student achievement, such as a teacher's highest level of education and degree subject, school safety, and school location.

Any country—as well as large subnational education systems—can participate in TIMSS. In 2015, there were more than 50 education systems that participated in TIMSS at the 4th-grade level, and more than 40 education systems participated at the 8th-grade level. In these reports, we use the term "country" to mean complete, independent political entities, whereas "other education systems" represent a portion of a country, nation, kingdom, or emirate or are other non-national entities. Thus the category "other education systems" includes all U.S. states and Canadian provinces that participated as well as Flemish Belgium, Chinese Taipei, England, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Northern Ireland, and the Palestinian National Authority. In these reports, "other education systems" are designated as such by their national three-letter international abbreviation appended to their name (e.g., England-GBR, Ontario-CAN).

In addition to the United States participating as a nation, one state, Florida, participated with a state sample of public schools and public-school students large enough to obtain their own results in TIMSS.

When comparing state results with the United States as a whole, as well as the other participating education systems, it is important to keep in mind that the state sample included only public schools, and therefore the state results are representative only of the performance of public schools in Florida. The U.S. national sample, as well as the samples in the other participating education systems, included both public and private schools.

The NCES report, Highlights from TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced 2015: Mathematics and Science Achievement of U.S. Students in an International Context provides international comparisons of average performance in mathematics and science at grades 4 and 8, and of advanced mathematics and physics students at grade 12; as well as average scores by gender for the United States and other countries and education systems, and by student race/ethnicity and school socioeconomic contexts within the United States; the percentages of students reaching international benchmark levels of proficiency for the United States and the international median; and changes in U.S. performance over time.

The results presented today focus on the performance of U.S. fourth and eighth-grade students in mathematics and science, and U.S. twelfth-grade students in advanced mathematics and physics, relative to that of their peers in other countries in 2015 and since the last administration of TIMSS.

These reports are intended to be used by educators, policymakers, and interested members of the public. The assessment data provided by TIMSS is an important external perspective on the performance of our nation's students.

How TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced Were Conducted

TIMSS was administered between March and May of 2015 in the United States. The U.S. sample was randomly selected and weighted to be representative of the nation. In order to reliably and accurately represent countries' performance, countries were required to sample at least 150 schools and at least 2,000 students (in countries having at least that many schools and students). In the United States, a total of 250 schools and 10,029 students participated in TIMSS at grade 4, 246 schools and 10,221 students participated in TIMSS at grade 8, not including the Florida sample.

A total of 241 schools and 2,954 students participated in advanced mathematics for TIMSS Advanced; 165 schools and 2,932 students participated in physics.

More information about how the TIMSS assessments were developed and conducted is included in the technical appendixes of the U.S. national reports. An additional source of information will be the studies' technical reports, to be published by the IEA in 2017.

How TIMSS Results Are Reported

Like other large-scale assessments, TIMSS was not designed to provide individual student scores. TIMSS provides accurate national and group estimates of performance. Achievement results from both TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. In order to compare performance over time, each administration of the assessments is placed on the same scale, which has a mean of 500 and standard deviation of 100. Countries and education systems can compare their scores over time to the standardized scale average, as well as compare their scores directly with other countries.

All differences described using TIMSS data are statistically significant at the .05 level. Differences that are not statistically significant are either not discussed or referred to as "not measurably different" or "not statistically significant."

In addition to numerical scale results, TIMSS includes international benchmarks at four points on the mathematics and science scalesAdvanced international benchmark (625), High international benchmark (550), Intermediate international benchmark (475), and Low international benchmark (400). Because assessment items are mapped to each benchmark level, knowing the percentage of students who have reached a benchmark tells you the percentage of students who successfully demonstrated the kinds of skills and knowledge required for answering items at that benchmark level. Descriptions of the kinds of skills and knowledge required for answering items successfully at each benchmark level are provided in the reports.

U.S. Performance in Mathematics at Grade 4

At grade 4, the U.S. average mathematics score (539) was higher than the TIMSS scale centerpoint of 500. The United States was among the top 20 education systems (10 education systems had higher averages and 9 were not measurably different) and scored higher, on average, than 34 education systems.

Ten education systems had average mathematics scores above the United States: Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Northern Ireland-Great Britain, the Russian Federation, Norway, Ireland, and Flemish Belgium.

England-Great Britain, Florida, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Denmark, Quebec-Canada, Lithuania, Finland, and Poland had average mathematics scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. average.

International Benchmarks of Proficiency

TIMSS uses four international benchmarks (Advanced, High, Intermediate, and Low) to describe the skills and knowledge of students at various levels of proficiency. The United States had higher percentages of fourth-graders reaching each international benchmark than the international median of participating education systems. Fourteen percent of U.S. fourth-graders reached the Advanced international benchmark; seven education systems had higher percentages of fourth-graders reaching the Advanced international benchmark.

Trends in Performance in Mathematics

The U.S. average score in mathematics at grade 4 did not change between 2011 and 2015.

U.S. Performance in Mathematics at Grade 8

At grade 8, the U.S. average mathematics score (518) was higher than the TIMSS scale centerpoint of 500. The United States was among the top 19 education systems in mathematics (8 education systems had higher averages and 10 were not measurably different) and scored higher, on average, than 24 education systems. The 8 education systems with average grade 8 mathematics scores above the U.S. average were Singapore, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong-China, Japan, Quebec-Canada, the Russian Federation, and Canada.

Kazakhstan, Ireland, Ontario-Canada, England-Great Britain, Slovenia, Hungary, Dubai-United Arab Emirates, Norway, Lithuania, and Israel had average mathematics scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. average.

International Benchmarks of Proficiency

The United States had higher percentages of eighth-graders reaching each international benchmark than the international median of participating education systems. Ten percent of U.S. eighth-graders reached the Advanced international benchmark; eight education systems had higher percentages of eighth-graders reaching the Advanced international benchmark than the United States.

Trends in Performance in Mathematics

The U.S. average score at grade 8 in TIMSS mathematics increased between 2011 and 2015.

U.S. Performance in Science at Grade 4

At grade 4, the U.S. average science score (546) was higher than the TIMSS scale centerpoint of 500. The United States was among the top 15 education systems (7 education systems had higher averages and 7 were not measurably different) and scored higher, on average, than 38 education systems.

The 7 education systems with average mathematics scores above the U.S. average were Singapore, Korea, Japan, the Russian Federation, Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei, and Finland.

Kazakhstan, Florida, Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, Sweden, and Bulgaria had average science scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. average.

International Benchmarks of Proficiency

The United States had higher percentages of fourth-graders reaching each international benchmark than the international median of participating education systems. Sixteen percent of U.S. fourth-graders reached the Advanced international benchmark; four education systems (Singapore, Korea, the Russian Federation, and Japan) had higher percentages of fourth-graders reaching the Advanced international benchmark.

Trends in Performance in Science

The U.S. average score in science at grade 4 in 2015 was not measurably different from 2011.

U.S. Performance in Science at Grade 8

At grade 8, the U.S. average science score (530) was higher than the TIMSS scale centerpoint of 500. The United States was among the top 17 education systems (7 education systems had higher averages and 9 were not measurably different) and scored higher, on average, than 26 education systems.

The 7 education systems with average science scores above the U.S. average were Singapore, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Slovenia, Hong Kong-China, and the Russian Federation.

England-Great Britain, Kazakhstan, Ireland, Quebec-Canada, Hungary, Canada, Dubai-United Arab Emirates, Ontario-Canada, and Sweden had average science scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. average.

International Benchmarks of Proficiency

The United States had higher percentages of eighth-graders reaching each international benchmark than the international median of participating education systems. Twelve percent of U.S. eighth-graders reached the Advanced international benchmark; 6 education systems (Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea, Slovenia, and Kazakhstan) had higher percentages of eighth-graders reaching the Advanced international benchmark.

Trends in Performance in Science

The U.S. average score in science at grade 8 in 2015 was not measurably different from 2011.

U.S. Performance in Advanced Mathematics at Grade 12

The last time the U.S. participated in TIMSS Advanced was in 1995. The U.S. average score for advanced mathematics in 2015 was not measurably different from the U.S. average in 1995.

Seven percent of advanced U.S. twelfth-graders reached the Advanced benchmark in advanced mathematics.

Twelfth-grade males in the U.S. scored 30 points higher than 12th-grade females in advanced mathematics. Males had an average score of 500; females had an average score of 470. (By contrast, fourth-grade males scored seven points higher in mathematics, and average mathematics scores for eighth-grade males and females were not measurably different.)

U.S. Performance in Advanced Science at Grade 12

The U.S. average score for physics in 2015 was not measurably different from the U.S. average in 1995.

Five percent of advanced U.S. twelfth-graders reached the Advanced benchmark in physics. This was lower than in three education systems (Slovenia, the Russian Federation, and Norway) and not measurably different from two education systems (Sweden and Portugal).

Twelfth-grade males in the U.S. scored 46 points higher than 12th-grade females in advanced science. Males had an average score of 455; females had an average score of 409. (By contrast, fourth-grade males scored four points higher in science, and eighth-grade males scored five points higher in science, on average.)

For More Information

This statement highlights some of the major findings from TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced 2015 from the U.S. perspective; the report, available on the NCES website, provides many more details. Also, other findings are available in the IEA's reports on TIMSS 2015 and TIMSS Advanced 2015. For more information on either or on the U.S. TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced 2015 results, please visit the TIMSS website at http://nces.ed.gov/timss.

Commissioner Peggy G. Carr's Briefing Slides MS PowerPoint (10.73 MB)

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