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Mapping International Assessments

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June 2019

Author: Olivia Carr

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.

The maps below are based on the most recent data from the three international assessments: PIRLS 2016, TIMSS 2015, and PISA 2015. TIMSS and PISA will next be administered in 2019 and 2018, respectively. See the November 2016 OREA legislative brief for quick facts about each of the three international assessments, prior average scores for the U.S. (and estimated scores for Tennessee), and a more detailed analysis of U.S. performance and proficiency levels.

Key considerations when viewing the interactive maps are as follows:

The younger the age of the students tested, the better the average 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 4th grade math has increased since 2001, though performance in math (as well as in science) is not measurably different from the last time TIMSS was conducted (2011). Average U.S. performance in 4th grade math has increased since 2001. Performance in 4th grade math and science is not measurably different from that of the 2011 administration of TIMSS. Average U.S. performance in 4th grade reading has decreased since the 2011 administration of PIRLS, but performance has not significantly changed since 2001.[1] Average U.S. performance in 4th grade online reading, from the new ePIRLS online reading extension, is higher than average performance in 10 education systems, the same as average performance in 2 education systems, and lower than average performance in 3 education systems.[2] Scores for U.S. 8th graders in math and science were also above the international average. Average math scores have increased over time, but average science scores have not consistently risen. Scores for U.S. 15-year-olds were approximately equal to around the OECD average in science and reading but below the OECD average in math. Average U.S. performance in all three subjects has not changed significantly or consistently 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 “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 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) with scores on the 2011 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.

International organizations are increasingly using technology in international assessments. PIRLS gave an additional computer-based assessment called ePIRLS for the first time in 2016 to test online reading.[3] TIMSS will be administered via computers or tablets to half of the education systems in 2019, and this eTIMSS version of the test will also ask students to solve problems in an interactive digital environment.[4] PISA is now completely administered on computers, as of the 2015 assessment cycle.[5]

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 in other academic subjects (reading and science) is also included in the pop-up bubble. 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) 2015, and the reading data come from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016. The red shading represents math scores, with a darker shade indicating higher average achievement. The blue shading represents reading scores for countries that administered PIRLS but not TIMSS, with a darker shade indicating higher average achievement.

In the map, 42 countries, eight subnational entities (including Florida), and four cities contain TIMSS data; 44 countries, nine subnational entities, and five cities contain PIRLS data; and 13 countries, two subnational entities, and one city contain ePIRLS 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. For more information on the performance of students in the U.S. on PIRLS and ePIRLS, see here[6]; on TIMSS, see here.

Note: 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 change over time.

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 higher average achievement. The map displays information on 33 countries, six subnational entities (including Florida), and four cities. The data for this map come from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015. 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. For more information on the performance of students in the U.S. on TIMSS, see here.

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 higher average achievement. The map displays information on 65 countries, 47 subnational entities (including Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico), and nine cities. The data for this map come from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015. 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. For more information on the performance of students in the U.S. on PISA, see here.

 

[1] https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pirls/pirls2016/tables/pirls2016_figure02.asp

[2] https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018017.pdf , page 7

[3] http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/pirls2016/international-results/epirls/about-epirls-2016/

[4] https://nces.ed.gov/timss/

[5] https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/faq.asp

[6]  https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018017.pdf

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