Saturday, 2:15 PM
Mass. students outperform peers on international exam
By James Vaznis, Globe Staff
Massachusetts students significantly outperformed their peers on a prestigious international math and science exam, according to results released this morning.
In many cases, the state's impressive showing on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which is conducted by Boston College, puts the state in the same elite league as several academically powerful Asian countries.
Massachusetts performed strongest on the fourth-grade science exam, coming in second worldwide just behind Singapore and ahead of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. By contrast, the United States as a whole placed eleventh with a score that researchers characterized as significantly lower than Massachusetts.
"This is a tribute to the work of the Commonwealth's students, teachers, and administrators," said state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester in a telephone interview. "This is a validation of the educational reforms undertaken in the last decade-plus and the financial investment that was made."
The test, more commonly known as TIMSS, is considered the largest assessment of international student achievement. Some 425,000 fourth- and eighth-graders in more than four dozen countries last year took the exam, which has been given every four years since 1995.
In Massachusetts, about 95 randomly selected schools administered exams to 3,600 fourth- and eighth-graders. Massachusetts had not participated as its own "nation" since 1999 when only the state's eighth-graders took the exam. Participation cost the state $600,000.
The state showed remarkable gains in its scores, greatly outpacing the country's incremental improvements.
In eighth-grade math, the state's score rose 34 points to 547 from eight years ago, compared to a 7-point increase for the United States, which averaged 508 last year. In eighth-grade science, the state's score rose 23 points to 556, compared to a 5-point gain for the United States, which scored 520 last year. The top possible score on each exam was 800.
The only other state that participated as an independent entity was Minnesota, which consistently trailed Massachusetts but did do better than the US average.
"I knew when we jumped into this that we would find some good news," said Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and a former state education board member who advocated for rejoining the TIMSS study.
State education leaders and education advocates nevertheless stressed the need for more academic improvement. They pointed out that in several instances that some nations still greatly exceed the state's performance on the TIMSS and that those nations continue to ramp up academic rigor.
Results were released this morning at a news conference at Manassah E. Bradley School in East Boston. A complete report can be found here.