NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Debate Over TIMSS Scores

June 9, 2000

In the 1998 Third International Mathematics and Science Study, graduating students in 14 of 21 nations outscored U.S. seniors in math and 11 of 21 nations did so in science. Among 16 nations, U.S. students who took advanced math and physics classes placed last in the high-level math test and second to last in physics.

But Gerald Bracey, a testing expert and columnist for the education journal Phi Delta Kappan, gives the TIMSS study itself low marks. He charges that it is so fraught with technical glitches as to be "uninterpretable" and that the TIMSS final year study is unreliable. That has put him at odds with William Schmidt, director of TIMSS in the U.S and a statistics professor at Michigan State University.

  • Bracey contends that American students participating in the study were a year or two younger than those from a number of other countries; Schmidt counters that students in several of those nations start school a year later than U.S. students and that it is years of schooling, not age, that counts.
  • Bracey argues that students in other nations take more science and math courses; but Schmidt responds that the study confirms that other nation's students face a far tougher curriculum than U.S. students.

The TMSS results were widely interpreted as an indictment of the U.S. education system. Moreover, they indicated that the longer students stay in American schools, the further they fall behind their peers in most industrialized nations.

Source: Tyce Palmaffy, "American Students Rarely Earn 'A's When Up Against Foreign Students," Investor's Business Daily, June 9, 2000.


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