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Mapping International Assessments
November 2016
Author: Olivia G. Murray

The United States regularly participates in three international assessments (PIRLS, TIMSS, and PISA) that are administered to students at two different grade levels and at age 15. The interactive maps below contain data on the average academic achievement of education systems around the world, grouped into three categories of students: 4th graders, 8th graders and 15-year-olds.

See the legislative brief for quick facts about each of the three international assessments, rankings for the U.S. (and estimated rankings for Tennessee), and more detailed analysis of U.S. performance and proficiency levels. Results for the most recent administration of all three international assessments are scheduled for release as follows: PISA 2015 results in December 2016; TIMSS 2015 results in November 2016; and PIRLS 2016 results in December 2017.

A few key conclusions to consider when viewing the interactive maps are as follows:

The younger the age of the students tested, the better the performance of the United States on international assessments. Scores for U.S. 4th graders in all subjects tested (reading, math, and science) were above the international average benchmark. Average U.S. performance in reading and math has increased since 2001, though performance in science has not changed significantly over time.
Scores for U.S. 8th graders in math and science were also above the international average, though average U.S. performance in those two subjects has not changed measurably over the last decade.
Scores for U.S. 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science were either below the international average, as was the case for math, or not statistically different from the average, which means U.S. scores were very close to the international average. Average U.S. performance in all three subjects has not changed significantly over time.

Estimates of Tennessee’s performance on international assessments indicate the state’s 8th graders would perform below the national (U.S.) and international averages in math. In science, estimates are that Tennessee’s 8th graders would perform close to the national average and above the international average. Some states, including Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina, have participated in international assessments as a “subnational entities,” meaning each state has paid to have an international assessment administered to samples of students within their boundaries as a subunit of the nation. Tennessee has not to date participated as a “subnational entity,” but in lieu of direct participation, researchers have designed studies to estimate the scores of U.S. states by linking each state’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) with scores on TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study).

Performance on international assessments are one indicator of an education system’s quality and should be considered along with other indicators for a comprehensive picture of performance. For example, decades of research have documented the general link between students’ socioeconomic status and their educational performance: students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds tend to perform better academically than their peers. Studies have shown that taking the socioeconomic status of students into account would increase the U.S. performance relative to other nations. Average scores and reported rankings on international assessments should be interpreted carefully and are one measure of education performance among others, such as equity, attainment, and citizenship.


Guide to OREA's Interactive Maps

The interactive maps below contain data on the average academic achievement of education systems around the world, grouped into three categories of students: 4th graders, 8th graders, and 15-year-olds. The shading used to compare performance is based on math performance, though performance for other academic subjects (reading and science) is also included. Darker shading indicates higher math achievement. Data were not available for countries without shading. For the international assessments used to create these maps, scores are scaled so that the average score internationally is approximately 500, according to assessment agency rules.

4th Graders

Click on an education system to see more data, including average achievement for different academic subjects, genders, and socioeconomic groups.



This map displays average math, reading, and science achievement of 4th graders in each education system. The math and science data for this map come from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011, and the reading data come from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2011. The green shading represents math scores, with a darker shade indicating a higher average achievement. The purple shading represents reading scores for countries that administered PIRLS but not TIMSS. In the map, 48 countries, two cities, and two U.S. states display TIMSS data, and 43 countries, two cities, and one U.S. state contain PIRLS data. TIMSS administers math and science assessments to 4th and 8th graders in education systems around the world every four years,* and PIRLS administers reading assessments to 4th graders in education systems around the world every five years. For more information about TIMSS and PIRLS, see here.

*The 4th grade assessment was not administered in 1999.

8th Graders

Click on a country to see more data, including average achievement for different academic subjects, genders, and socioeconomic groups.




This map displays average math and science achievement of 8th graders in each education system. The shading represents math scores, with a darker shade indicating a higher average achievement. In addition to 39 countries and two cities, the map contains information for nine U.S. states. The data for this map come from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011. TIMSS administers math and science assessments to 4th and 8th graders from education systems around the world every four years.* For more information about TIMSS, see here.

*The 4th grade assessment was not administered in 1999.

15-Year-Olds

Click on a country to see more data, including average achievement for different academic subjects, genders, and socioeconomic groups.





This map displays average math, reading, and science achievement of 15-year-olds in each education system. The shading represents math scores, with a darker shade indicating a higher average achievement. In addition to 61 countries and four cities, the map contains information on three U.S. states. The data for this map come from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012. PISA administers math, reading, and science assessments to 15-year-old students from education systems around the world every three years. For more information about PISA, see here.





Updated November 2016


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