U.S. students gain ground internationally

Four graders close gap, but eighth graders lag
Dec. 12, 2012 @ 06:07 PM

Recent international test scores showed American students making some gains in the international rankings. 

Fourth grade students made progress in reading and math in the past five years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The fourth graders now rank among the world's leaders in reading literacy. 

North Carolina, in particular, was lauded for its scores. The North Carolina test scores were above the average for the country. 

“Students in a handful of Asian education systems still out-perform North Carolina’s students in math and science," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. "But North Carolina’s students are doing as well as, or better than, their peers in most high-performing nations in math, and are even ahead of their counterparts in Finland. North Carolina’s school leaders and educators have shown that in a demographically-diverse state like North Carolina, poverty is not destiny in the classroom.”

No Union County Public Schools participated in the TIMSS or PIRLS assessments last year, which these rankings are based on.

There was some progress in the rankings all around. 

"We're clearly doing something right in that we've made progress," Cynthia Compton, as assistant professor at Wingate University's of graduate and continuing education, said. "We have 17 percent of the U.S. students ranked in the advanced area."

The new scores, according to the department of education, showed that learning in the fourth grade needs to be sustained throughout a child;s academic career. 

"At the same time, these new international comparisons underscore the urgency of accelerating achievement in secondary school and the need to close large and persistent achievement gaps," Duncan said in a statement. "Learning gains in the fourth grade are not being sustained in eighth grade — where mathematics and science achievement failed to measurably improve." 

American students are also underperforming in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines. 

"A number of nations are out-educating us today in the STEM disciplines–and if we as a nation don't turn that around, those nations will soon be out-competing us in a knowledge-based, global economy," Duncan said in a statement. 

However, Compton points out that many scores were above the TIMSS average, including the eighth grade science score. 

"It's still something to celebrate, I believe," Compton said. 

The international assessments are useful as the market becomes more global. 

"They're useful to us because as we prepare for the jobs that will be available to our students in the future, we know that we can only imagine what those jobs are going to be," Compton said. "So, we want to be sure that our students are prepared as well as possible and we want to compete with students from other countries." 

The more gains American students make in these rankings, the better for their future, she added. 

In the United States, every child receives and education, which is not true for all countries. Also, the TIMSS scores for other countries often include both public and private schools, Compton noted. 

"In many countries, students are given an entrance test to go to Kindergarten," Compton said. "We don't do that. We teach all children and they come to us in many different places." 

Compton could not speak to funding, however, she said that professional development is treated differently in other countries. In eastern countries, teachers have almost half a day every day for professional development, Compton said. 

"That's one of the pieces," Compton said. "We're teaching longer, our teachers are in class teaching longer, more classes, more students and the professional development does not receive the attention it does in many of the countries where you see the achievement much higher." 

Compton said the country needs to research what they are doing to make raise the rankings and focus on that. 

"I think more research needs to happen," she said.