Another, more positive look at U.S. scores on international tests

by David Safier

U.S. education is in the pits compared to other countries, right? Maybe not. Here's another look at our scores that puts many of our states among the top 10 countries in the world in math and science. Five of the states have higher scores than any country in Europe. Looking at individual state scores explains why the U.S. average score looks bad. We're dragged down by low scoring states, which are mainly high poverty states, most of them in the south and southwest.

On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the U.S. ranks 11th in the world in Math. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has broken our scores down by state (it created a correlation between the TIMSS test and our NAEP test). Massachusetts ranks as the 5th highest "nation" in the world, below Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong — and tied with Japan. Every European country ranks lower than Massachusetts. Vermont, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Jersey are all in 6th place, just below Japan and above all the European countries. Maine, Wisconsin and North Carolina, in 7th place, are barely edged out by the Russian Federation. Other states in the top 10 are Alaska, Colorado, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Indiana, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia and Oregon.

What brings the U.S. average down are low scoring states. Here are the worst, ranked from lowest to highest, along with their world rankings and the countries whose scores they come closest to: Alabama, 26th, between Armenia and Romania; Mississippi, 24th, between Dubai and Norway; Washington D.C., 22nd, between Sweden and Ukraine; Tennessee, Oklahoma and West Virginia, tied for 19th, between Italy and New Zealand.

(You might be surprised to see countries like Norway, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand scoring below the U.S. average, along with Great Britain and Australia.  That's something the "Our schools are failing!" shriekers fail to mention, because it doesn't fit the myth they're perpetrating.)

Below the fold are two maps, one showing the high, middle and lowest scoring states, another showing the percentage of low income students in the states. It should surprise no one, the two are closely related.

Here's a map showing state rankings in math, with orange the worst, green in the middle and blue the highest.

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 10.51.24 AM

Here's another map showing the percentage of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, with dark green the highest percentage of poverty and light green the lowest.

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 10.50.54 AM

The two maps don't make for a perfect correlation, but
it's a clear indication of what every study shows: poverty and low
academic achievement go together.

One response to “Another, more positive look at U.S. scores on international tests

  1. And Arne Duncan hasn’t helped at all.