U.S. Improving in Math and Science, According to New Reports

New test score findings have indicated that the United States does not lag as far behind in math, science, and reading as earlier reports had suggested. According to Education Week, the United States scored “above average” in comparison to the 63 countries tested in fourth- and eighth-grade science, mathematics and reading. These scores contrasted significantly with the PISA, or Program for the International Student Assessment, scores released two years ago.

TIMSS and PIRL Explained

According to The New York Times, these findings were based on results of the 2011 TIMSS, Trends in International Math and Science Study, and PIRLS, Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. Developed by the International Study Center at Boston College, the tests are administered to random samples of fourth and eighth graders in 63 countries, for the TIMSS, and 49 countries, for the PIRLS.

The Findings

While the United States still lags behind East Asian countries in math and science, fourth-grade reading scores are near the top. The United States scored sixth in fourth-grade reading, with Florida at the top of the states. In the top spots were Hong Kong and Russia.

The United States came in at 11th for fourth-grade math and ninth for eighth-grade math. The top scorers for fourth- and eighth-grade math were South Korea and Singapore. Of particular concern was that only 7 percent of American eighth graders scored at the advanced level in math, while 48 percent of Singapore’s and 47 percent of South Korea’s students scored in that range.

For fourth-grade science, the United States was in seventh place and held 10th place for eighth-grade science. The top eighth-grade science scores belonged to Singapore and Taiwan.

Contributing Factors to Success

The New York Times pointed out that while Finland, which does not test students frequently, outperformed the United States, so did countries that test students often. Part of the exams involved having parents fill out questionnaires on their involvement in their children’s education before formal school began. There was a high correlation between student academic achievement and parental involvement. Students who attended preschool also had higher test scores.

Continued Concerns

The Huffington Post reported that while the findings are encouraging, of great concern is that American scores in the above-average range decrease significantly with age. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that this decrease is “unacceptable.” Poorer students also continue to be at a disadvantage. Claus von Zastrow, COO of Change the Equation, a D.C. advocacy group for math and science success, said, "They were holding even with the international average in some grade levels, fourth grade, but in eighth grade, they've dropped below. It means they're getting less competitive as they're going through the school system, and that's a tragic story."


Education Week encourages the public to remain objective regarding the TIMSS and PIRLS scores, which have dramatically different results than the PISA administered only two years prior. The PISA specifically tests 15-year-olds in industrialized nations, while the TIMSS tests fourth and eighth graders in industrialized and less-developed nations, affecting the scores considerably.

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