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International Test Scores

Poor U.S. Test Results
Tied To Weak Curriculum

Most of the following was excerpted from a speech by Pascal D. Forgione, Jr., Ph.D. U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics.  As a government researcher, he tries to put the best possible spin on the academic failure of American schools, but this is no sugar-coated report.  math scores    science scores

This is No Sugar-coated Report

Math and science offer the only common basis for comparing American schools to the rest of the world. Other subjects vary from one country to another. Results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) involving a half-million students in 41 countries are authoritative. Oversight groups included not only the world's leading experts on comparative studies of education systems, but also experts in assessment design and statistical analysis.

Comparisons are Fair Traditionally, the most common criticism of international studies is that it is unfair to compare our results to other countries because their national scores are based on a highly selective population. While this may have been true in the past, it is simply not valid in the case of TIMSS. Using several different methods of measuring enrollment, the data indicate that the enrollment rate in the United States is closer to the international average than to the desirable upper extreme. Even the theory that higher secondary enrollment rates hurt a country's overall achievement did not hold true. Students in countries with higher enrollment rates tended to score significantly higher on both the math and science general knowledge assessments. Higher secondary enrollment rates are associated with higher levels of performance, rather than the reverse. The range of scores, from high to low, is no greater in the United States than in the higher-scoring countries. 

Participants This study included primarily the industrialized countries of Europe but also the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Asia. So-called third world countries that have a higher literacy rate than the U.S., like Costa Rica, and others that contribute a significant number of U.S. advance degreed immigrants, like India , were not part of this study; therefore, the results in terms of world competition are worse than portrayed in these charts.

Results In short, the tests showed U.S. fourth-graders performing poorly, middle school students worse. and high school students are unable to compete. By the same criteria used to say we were "average" in elementary school, "we appear to be "near the bottom" at the high school level. People have a tendency to think this picture is  bleak but it doesn't apply to their own school. Chances are, even if your school compares well in SAT scores, it will still be a lightweight on an international scale.

  1. By the time our students are ready to leave high school - ready to enter higher education and the labor force - they are doing so badly with science they are significantly weaker than their peers in other countries.
  2. Our idea of "advanced" is clearly below international standards.
  3. There appears to be a consistent weakness in our teaching performance in physical sciences that becomes magnified over the years.

Causes for Failure One would think that with our vastly superior resources and the level of education spending which far exceeds these competitors we would outperform nearly everyone - not so. Dr. Schmidt, who oversees the research effort into the TIMSS results, says the actual cause for the failures appears to be weak math and science curricula in U.S. middle schools. 

A more insightful explanation was once proffered by Jean McLaughlin, president of Barry University who confided "The public schools lack focus; instead of concentrating on education, they dabble in social re-engineering". That assessment was confirmed by the superintendent of the country's fourth largest school district in Miami-Dade, Florida who said "Half our job is education, and the other half is social work". 

Downward sloping performance confirms John Taylor Gatto's thesis in his book Dumbing Us Down and his speeches which charge compulsory government education with deliberately producing robots instead of adults who are the best they can be.

      Curricula The biggest deficits are found at the middle school level. In middle school, most countries shift curricula from basic arithmetic and elementary science in the direction of chemistry, physics, algebra and geometry. Even poor countries generally teach a half-year of algebra and a half-year of geometry to every eighth-grader.

In U.S. middle schools, however, most students continue to review arithmetic. And they are more likely to study earth science and life science than physics or chemistry.

      Teachers Among teachers of high school biology and life sciences classes, approximately 31 percent of them do not have at least a minor in biology. Among high school physical science teachers, over half, 55 percent, do not have at least a minor in any of the physical sciences. Again we might question the focus of the teachers on social re-engineering instead of subject areas.

      Textbooks U.S. textbooks treat topics with a "mile-wide, inch-deep" approach, Schmidt said. A typical U.S. eighth-grade math textbook deals with about 35 topics. By comparison, a Japanese or German math textbook for that age would have only five or six topics. Comparisons done elsewhere between French and American  math books show more innovative approaches to finding, for instance, the volume of a pyramid. Fractions don't lend themselves to computerization, so they're relegated to an importance slightly above Roman numerals. Calculators are here to stay, so kids breeze through long division. They concentrate on how to use math rather than how to do math, and with less entanglement in social philosophy.

Solutions? The federal government has conspired with Big Education to cram a totally untested set of mandates down the throats of teachers and parents. Common Core, which morphs into other names as opposition rises, seeks to impose a "one size fits all" nationwide disaster. Follow the Money! Book publishers and testing companies developed a slick marketing campaign to sell the scheme, and sell billions of dollars of totally revised books and tests. Contents of the dumbed-down curriculum horrify those who have actually studied the changes in detail. Question: When you are dead last, why not FOLLOW what is working in 8 Pacific Rim countries who consistently score at the top, instead of trusting Washington, DC to divine where the untested bleeding edge of education ought to be? Detailed Policy Analysis.

American Education Not World Class

The schools systematically let kids down. By grade 4, American students only score in the middle of 26 countries reported. By grade 8 they are in the bottom third, and at the finish line, where it really counts,  we're near dead last. Its even worse when you notice that some of the superior countries in grade 8 (especially the Asians) were not included in published 12th grade results. They do not need 12 grades.


Grade 4 Grade 8 Grade 12
Rank Nation Score   Nation Score   Nation Score
1. Singapore 625   Singapore 643   Netherlands 560
2. Korea 611   Korea 607   Sweden 552
3. Japan 597   Japan 605   Denmark 547
4. Hong Kong 587   Hong Kong 588   Switzerland 540
5. Netherlands 577   Belgium 565   Iceland 534
6. Czech Republic 567   Czech Republic 564   Norway 528
7. Austria 559   Slovak Republic 547   France 523
8. Slovenia 552   Switzerland 545   New Zealand 522
9. Ireland 550   Netherlands 541   Australia 522
10. Hungary 548   Slovenia 541   Canada 519
11. Australia 546   Bulgaria 540   Austria 518
12. United States 545   Austria 539   Slovenia 512
13. Canada 532   France 538   Germany 495
14. Israel 531   Hungary 537   Hungary 483
15. Latvia 525   Russian Fed. 535   Italy 476
16. Scotland 520   Australia 530   Russian Fed. 471
17. England 513   Ireland 527   Lithuania 469
18. Cyprus 502   Canada 527   Czech Republic 466
19. Norway 502   Belgium 526   United States 461
20. New Zealand 499   Sweden 519   Cyprus 446
21. Greece 492   Thailand 522   South Africa 356
22. Thailand 490   Israel 522      
23. Portugal 475   Germany 509      
24. Iceland 474   New Zealand 508      
25. Iran 429   England 506      
26. Kuwait 400   Norway 503      
27.       Denmark 502      
28.       United States 500      
29.       Scotland 498      
30.       Latvia 493      
31.       Spain 487      
32.       Iceland 487      
33.       Greece 484      
34.       Romania 482      
35.       Lithuania 477      
36.       Cyprus 474      
37.       Portugal 454      
38.       Iran 428      
39.       Kuwait 392      
40.       Colombia 385      
41.       South Africa 354      
Grade Average 529   Grade Average 513   Grade Average 500



Grade 4 Grade 8 Grade 12
Rank Nation Score   Nation Score   Nation Score
1. Korea 597   Singapore 607   Sweden 559
2. Japan 574   Czech Republic 574   Netherlands 558
3. United States 565   Japan 571   Iceland 549
4. Austria 565   Korea 565   Norway 544
5. Australia 562   Bulgaria 565   Canada 532
6. Netherlands 557   Netherlands 560   New Zealand 529
7. Czech Republic 557   Slovenia 560   Australia 527
8. England 551   Austria 558   Switzerland 523
9. Canada 549   Hungary 554   Austria 520
10. Singapore 547   England 552   Slovenia 517
11. Slovenia 546   Belgium 550   Denmark 509
12. Ireland 539   Australia 545   Germany 497
13. Scotland 536   Slovak Republic 544   France 487
14. Hong Kong 533   Russian Fed. 538   Czech Republic 487
15. Hungary 532   Ireland 538   Russian Fed. 481
16. New Zealand 531   Sweden 535   United States 480
17. Norway 530   United States 534   Italy 475
18. Latvia 512   Germany 531   Hungary 471
19. Israel 505   Canada 531   Lithuania 461
20. Iceland 505   Norway 527   Cyprus 448
21. Greece 497   New Zealand 525   South Africa 349
22. Portugal 480   Thailand 525      
23. Cyprus 475   Israel 524      
24. Thailand 473   Hong Kong 522      
25. Iran 416   Switzerland 522      
26. Kuwait 401   Scotland 517      
      15 others        
Grade Average 524   Grade Average 516   Grade Average 500


For years, people have taken false comfort in the notion that while the performance of all our students may be poor, our strength lies in our top students. Many people believe that our best students perform better than the best students of most other countries. TIMSS shows this notion to be untrue. Note again that many superior countries (especially the Asians) are not included in the reported results.

Grade 12 Top Students

Advanced Math Advanced Science
Rank   Nation Score   Nation Score
1.   France 557   Norway 581
2.   Russian Fed. 542   Sweden 573
3.   Switzerland 533   Russian Fed. 545
4.   Australia 525   Denmark 534
5.   Denmark 522   Slovenia 523
6.   Cyprus 518   Germany 522
7.   Lithuania 516   Australia 518
8.   Greece 513   Cyprus  494
9.   Sweden 512   Latvia 488
10.   Canada 509   Switzerland 488
11.   Slovenia 475   Greece 486
12.   Italy 474   Canada 485
13.   Czech Republic 469   France 466
14.   Germany 465   Czech Republic 451
15.   United States 442   Austria 435
16.   Austria 436   United States 423
  Grade Average 501   Grade Average 501


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Comment  In 1983, A Nation At Risk urgently recommended reforms in education warning "the United States is under challenge from many quarters".  Today we're at greater risk than ever. The Government Education Monopoly continues to imperil our economy by failing miserably at preparing the workforce. Business increasingly looks for talent overseas. The world's greatest concentration of PhD's is in Seoul, Korea and half of Americans can't even find Seoul on a map.

Microsoft India taps Indian programming and engineering skills with 83,000 certifications issued in 1999. We import 107,000 H-1B professionals every year, half of them with PhD's. 

Unless we re-tool education, there is a strong likelihood that America will get overtaken in education the way we did in automobiles. Before the 70's our economy was based on the automobile, but a complacent automobile industry failed to make changes. Japanese cars invaded, and canceled our dominance. The resulting outflow of dollars to Japan devastated our economy. Its about to happen again, this time to pay high salaries to well-educated workers overseas.

Doing it Right One does not need to scurry around trying to devise a plan to extricate ourselves from this mess. The simplest way to improve American education (public, private, and parochial) quickly is to adopt books and teaching methods from countries at the top of the ranking. During ten years of he cultural revolution, South Korea adopted the U.S. System, dumping it when their results nosedived. Several International Baccalaureate schools have gotten dual accreditation from the participating sister country when they met the higher standards required abroad. In our own case, that required an extra hour of instruction each day, and phys-ed in a foreign language. One such government school nicknamed "teacher heaven" was organized by principal Lois Lindahl in Miami, Florida. Her motto is "Children will perform to the level of your expectations".


Download the summary TIMSS report in PDF format

Full text and charts of Forgione speech:

See also:

Kill the messenger: Dr. Forgione's re-nomination as U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics was blocked by the Clinton/Gore administration.  Forgione is now Superintendent of the Austin Independent School District.

More Info:

Boston College International Study Center originated TIMSS. It has timely updates and more data.

Grandfather Education Report  presenting graphs, data, and analysis that tells the stark truth. 

This research brought to you by 4Choice, dedicated to School Choice without School Vouchers.

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