International Math Test Results

A familiar note from The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS test. American students' 2007 scores have improved since 2003, when the last test was given. They are above average but far from the top.

Here's a good summary from Education Week on the results.

Top scores for Grade Four in math, on an 800-point scale

Hong Kong 607
Singapore 599
Taiwan 576
Japan 568
Kazakhstan 549
Russia 544
England 541
Latvia 537
Netherlands 535
Lithuania 530
United States 529
Germany 525
Denmark 523

Top scores on Grade Eight in math:

Taiwan 598
South Korea 597
Singapore 593
Hong Kong 572
Japan 570
Hungary 517
England 513
Russia 512
United States 508
Lithuania 506
Czech Republic 504
Slovenia 501
Armenia 499

An interesting side note is that students in Minnesota and Massachussetts did a lot better than the US average. Massachuesetts, in particular, is often a stand out on national tests too, and I don't know why. I'm going to see if I can get some perspective on this today and I'll get back to you.

If you want to get a taste of what is on the test, here are some sample questions from the grade 4 test and from the grade 8 test.

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  December 9, 2008; 11:14 AM ET  | Category:  Math Around the World
Previous: Where's the Algebra? Crime Scene Math | Next: Guest Blogger: What International Math Tests Really Say


Our lack of science knowledge isn't surprising given the fundamentalists' power in setting curriculums across the country. How can our kids possibly learn science when there are large segments of our society trying to create suspicion in our kids towards established scientific principles?

When the top Republican presidential candidate for 2012 believes that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth together, and when we've just spent eight years with an administration that just erases science it doesn't agree with, it's no wonder we have a problem

Posted by: laurie10 | December 9, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

100% 8th grade proficiency! Though I did break out a pad of paper...

Posted by: ddh8x | December 9, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Boo to TIMSS on the 8th grade question 8 - weight is not mass, even parenthetically. And without specifying the type of egg, there's the possibility for either kg or g to be a useful mass unit. Must have been Americans writing the test. :-)

It's good to see improvement, but I'm curious, is the improvement relative to other countries, or to previous results for Americans? Also, eager to see what it is about Minnesota and Massachussetts.

Posted by: tomsing | December 9, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Very much agree with tomsing at 1:58pm.

ALSO, in response to 8th grade math, question 3:
Consider the following polynomial that establishes a relation between x and y:

y=f(x) = (3/2-A/6) x^3 + (2A-18) x^2+(127/2-41A/6) x + 7A-62

f(2) = 5,
f(3) = 7,
f(4) = A,
f(7) = 15.

Choose any value for A, and you can get ANY answer of your choosing. I feel sorry for the bright kid in Hong Kong who figures this out and left the question blank in protest.

My real point is that in the US we train kids to take multiple choice tests rather than really understand mathematics. If you think the answer can only be 9, then you have no comprehension of the power of mathematics.

Posted by: hongkongkid | December 9, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"I'm going to see if I can get some perspective on this today and I'll get back to you."

Good idea. Here's a suggestion: It is well documented that smart people have smart children, and that smart children do well in school. If you look at IQ estimates for Massachusetts and Minnesota (or think about who lives there), you will find them high at the top of the list. You can extend this to whole populations as well: East Asians have very high math IQ, Europeans lower, Hispanics/Africans lower still. And you will find that therefore the demographic mix of a country or state predicts its level of academic success in math and science very well. But I doubt any of the "experts" you talk to will point that out: you'll have to think for yourself. Educational comparisons that don't take into account the different IQs of the children being educated, and therefore their capacity to learn, are worse than useless: they actually lead to destructive policies.

Posted by: qaz1231 | December 9, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Good call, hongkongkid. Patterns are not always as simple as they appear, and although Occam's razor is a good general guideline, it's also important to recognize its limitations.

It probably wouldn't do any good on the TIMSS test, but I imagine an 8th grader who can make your argument would probably get the points on a regular exam.

Posted by: tomsing | December 9, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I am pleased to see America’s students are improving their mathematical abilities, but substantial work still needs to be done. The TIMSS study shows that American students still lack one of the most critical skills for college and the workforce, mathematics, just when they need it the most.

U.S. scores have shown improvement which indicates that the focus on the importance of mathematics education is having a positive effect and should be continued throughout the critical middle school years. The gap is broader in eighth grade because many students have not yet mastered the foundational concepts needed for introduction to algebra.

Teaching for conceptual understanding is beginning to help and as U.S. educators continue to stress the importance of conceptual understanding alongside computational fluency, we will continue to see improvement.

-Judy Ann Brown, mathematics program manager for Sylvan Learning

Posted by: JHoltz | December 9, 2008 7:17 PM | Report abuse

I live in Massachusetts, and I'd guess that qaz1231 is essentially correct: there are a lot of people here who are smart and well educated, and of those people, the ones that become parents are likely to want their children to become smart and well educated, too. Of course, that only pushes the question back one step to where the smart adults come from; my guess would be that they are attracted to Massachusetts by the many high quality universities here. I don't know how that relates to Minnesota, though.

By the way, thanks for the informative article and links. Those interested in numerical figures for Massachusetts might want to look at:

Posted by: WarrenDew | December 9, 2008 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Massachusetts is a small state loaded with universities and young people. A lot of those young people choose to pursue graduate study in MA and then hang on, working in research or universities or trying to get a first job in business. There is a train system (not just the subway system) that makes it possible to live in the suburbs and work in the city so there are lower-cost alternatives to high prices of urban living (much like Washington in that respect).
If your parents have more education, it is likely you will too. I don't relate it to IQ but to expectations.
Also, despite lots of fighting, the MCAS standards have stayed on. Teachers complain about 'teaching to the test' but at least the topics are taught and results are measured. There are quite a few charter schools in the state. All of this adds up.
Don't know about Minnesota.
The Asian countries have educational systems that have raised the bar considerably. Again, I don't think it's IQ so much as high expectations and willingness to demand critical thinking and skills to be taught to every single child, even if they have to work overtime to keep up.
Lots of tutoring. Whatever the expense.

Posted by: KathyWi | December 10, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

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