NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Disappointing Performance By American Eighth Graders

December 6, 2000

Four years after American fourth-grade students scored high on an international test of science and math, a follow-up test when they reached the eighth-grade showed their performance -- relative to their peers in other countries -- declined markedly. The survey was based on the Third International Math and Science Study-Repeat tests taken by 180,000 eighth-grade students in 38 nations last year.

Here are some findings from report:

  • The American fourth-graders had been among the leaders in science and at the international average in math.
  • But as eighth-graders, American students performed worse in science and math than students in Singapore, Taiwan, Russia, Canada, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands and Australia.
  • They hovered at less than the international average in math and at the average in science.
  • By the twelfth grade they lagged far behind students in most of the 42 nations in both subjects.

The only American group that improved since the 1995 survey was made up of black students, whose achievement rose in math -- but not science.

Critics say international comparisons can be misleading since some other countries divide students at an early age into academic and nonacademic tracks. Thus, only their top-ranked students get to take the test.

Source: Diana Jean Schemo, "8th Graders See Success Fall Off From 4th Grade," New York Times, December 6, 2000.

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