Math & science improvements still needed in middle school, repeat study shows

December 04, 2000

Results of the recent Third International Mathematics and Science Study Repeat (TIMSS-R), announced today by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), confirms previous evidence that the U.S. needs to strengthen efforts in math and science education in middle school, say officials of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which cofunded the study.

"The initial TIMSS study four years ago focused national attention on the fact that U.S. K-12 students fare poorly in worldwide comparisons of math and science preparation," says Rita Colwell, NSF director. "The extensive TIMSS-R data will be a valuable resource in NSF's continuing efforts to understand these weaknesses and to overcome them."

"The lack of competitiveness of U.S. K-12 students has much larger ramifications than simply providing enough mathematicians and scientists for laboratories," Colwell said.

"In these technological times, general scientific and mathematical literacy is crucial to the entire workforce and has implications for our economy into the future," Colwell added.

TIMSS-R confirms findings of the original TIMSS study four years ago that the relative standing of U.S. students slips between the 4th and 8th grade, says Judith Sunley, NSF interim assistant director for education and human resources.

"This finding reaffirms our belief that the U.S. needs to focus on stronger math and science preparation in middle school," Sunley says. "The curricula at that level are not strong and teachers are not as well prepared as they are in the countries that perform better, where the teachers are more likely to hold degrees in the disciplines they are teaching."

While the study indicates that all students seem to be doing better in mathematics since the first TIMSS, the gap between the performance levels of minority and majority students remains a serious concern, Sunley says.

The information released today represents only part of the TIMSS-R study. In the spring, NCES plans to release information about the 27 U.S. jurisdictions that took the TIMSS-R test as individual "nations." The results will allow those jurisdictions to see exactly how they compare with the countries in the study.

Another part of the TIMSS study involved placing video cameras in classrooms to allow analysis of classroom environment, teacher and student interaction and behavior and other factors in the varied cultures. The video study results will be released later in 2001.
Colwell spoke at the TIMSS-R news conference today in Washington, D.C. For her comments, see:

For more information about TIMSS-R, see:

Program contacts:
Janice Earle

Larry Suter

Elizabeth VanderPutten

National Science Foundation

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