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State Eighth-Graders Excel

Scores Are Higher Than Average On Global Math And Science Test

By Kathleen Megan

December 12, 2012

Connecticut eighth-graders scored higher than average on an international science and math test taken in 2011, but they lagged far behind students in East Asian countries and neighboring Massachusetts.

About 600,000 students in fourth and eighth grades in more than 50 countries participated in the Trends in International Math and Science Study, known as TIMSS, though in Connecticut only eighth-graders were part of a benchmark study that broke out separate scores for them.

On the science portion of the test, Connecticut scored better than more than 30 countries with a score of 532 -- not significantly different from the United States' overall average score of 525. The TIMSS scale average on the test is 500.

Connecticut's eighth-graders scored better than those in about 35 countries on the math portion of the test, with a score of 518, again not too different from the U.S. score of 509. The TIMSS scale average on the math portion is also 500.

Connecticut's scores were slightly higher than the last time eighth-graders took this test, which was in 1999, but one analyst said the improvement was too small to be considered statistically significant.

The 2011 scores placed the United States relatively high in the ranking of countries -- ninth in eighth-grade math and 10th in eighth-grade science. But the U.S. and Connecticut fell well behind the leaders.

On the science part of the test, students in Singapore scored 590 and in Korea, 560, while in Massachusetts, the score was 567 and in Minnesota, 553. On the math portion, students in Korea scored 613 and in Singapore scored 611, while in Massachusetts, the scores were 561 and in Minnesota, 545.

Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said in an email that he is encouraged the test results show that Connecticut's performance "was above average overall," but he said the results also "confirm that our state is middling compared to the other U.S. states measured and that growth in student performance has been stagnant. While our neighbor, Massachusetts, has shown considerable gains and outperformed some of the best education systems in the world, Connecticut reported no gains."

Pryor said that for "Connecticut to advance internationally and relative to other states, our state must maintain its urgency for improving our schools and addressing our largest-in-the-nation achievement gaps."

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement that the 2011 "international assessments provide both encouraging news about our students' progress and some sobering cautionary notes."

He said it is rewarding to see that students in highly diverse states such as Massachusetts and North Carolina "excelled internationally ... showing that demography is not destiny in our schools."

"These new assessments put to rest the myth that America's schools cannot be among the world's top-performing school systems," Duncan said. "In fact, eighth-graders in Massachusetts performed below only one country in the world in science, Singapore."

He said it is "particularly troubling that eighth-grade science achievement is stagnant and that students in Singapore and Korea are far more likely to perform at advanced levels in science than U.S. students."

"A number of nations are out-educating us today in the STEM disciplines -- and if we as a nation don't turn that around," Duncan said, " those nations will soon be out-competing us in a knowledge-based, global economy."

In Connecticut, 2,100 eighth-graders took the test at 62 randomly selected schools.

While students all over the country took the tests, benchmark reports were broken out for only nine states on the science and math tests. Connecticut scored in the middle of that pack on both tests.


Asked why Massachusetts does markedly better than other states and countries, J.C. Considine, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the state has a 20-year history of reform that has been supported consistently by bipartisan leadership and through changes in governor.

He said the reform effort has been characterized by "high expectations for every child."

The state has invested heavily in professional development for teachers, Considine said, and requires that all public high school students pass tests in mathematics, English language arts, and a third area that covers science, technology and engineering.

"I think we were one of the first states to incorporate engineering into science," Considine said.

"This is really exciting news for us," Considine said.

"To us, it is a validation of the tremendous investment in K to 12."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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