Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How do 4th and 8th graders perform in the US compared to other countries?

Hot off the presses! International results have just been released for 4th grade reading and 8th grade reading, math and science. Let's take a look at how the US performed compared to other countries. The International Study Center at Boston College has released the results for the 2011 PIRLS (Progress In International Reading Literacy Study) and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study).

According to the Commissioner's presentation of the TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 results  from the Institute of Education Sciences, there were 53 and 74 educational systems participating in the reading and math/science assessments, respectively. Here's a snapshot of the countries:


The U.S. reading average (556) was lower than 5 other education systems (Hong Kong, Russian Federation, Finland, Singapore and Florida), not measurably different than 7 other education systems and higher than 40 education systems. This chart is found in the Highlights from PIRLS 2011 from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

According to the New York Times, "Although the average scores among American students were not significantly lower than the top performers, several nations far outstripped the United States in the proportion of students who scored at the highest levels on the math and science tests.

"In the United States, only 7 percent of students reached the advanced level in eighth-grade math, while 48 percent of eighth graders in Singapore and 47 percent of eighth graders in South Korea reached the advanced level. As those with superior math and science skills increasingly thrive in a global economy, the lag among American students could be a cause for concern."  

 Here is a table I put together with an overview of how the U.S. compares with other countries on the 4th and 8th grade math and science assessments. 

 I have several questions pertaining to these results, including:
  • What are the demographics of the students who completed the test and how were they chosen?
  • How rigorous are the assessments and to what degree do they meaningfully measure a student's ability to solve complex problems and think critically?
  • What is the potential impact of this data in the context of Berkeley education?
For more information, including the the types of assessment questions and how they're scored, visit the Institute of Educational Sciences pages on TIMSS and PIRLS.

If you have reactions, questions or comments, please share them below, email me or comment on Facebook or Twitter


  1. I will be interested in whether you find the answers to any of the questions listed above. Generalizing about an entire country's education system is pretty, well, general. I am definitely interested in the local impact, but I was also struck by world maps. I know that much of Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia is considered Third World, but does that mean they should not have been tested? Were they given the opportunity? Are these tests just perpetuating global inequalities? Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    1. Great questions, Allyson! I just reached out to the folks at National Education statistics to ask them and I'll post any responses I get. Thanks!

  2. Dr. Michael Marder did some disaggregating of Texas scores on PISA and NAEP. American affluent kids outscore the world.

    The achievement gap is about poverty, which is why we can predict test scores by zipcode.