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TIMMS: tired of criticism about your schools' math and science test scores? Find out how these U.S. schools are boosting their results.

A clear goal; an early start; constant investigation and experimentation, reasoning and problem solving. These concepts helped create a recipe of success for students in Naperville, Ill., and other school districts across the U.S.

Roughly 1,200 eighth-graders in the Naperville District 203, which has about 18,500 students in 21 schools, ranked No. 1 in the world for science achievement and No. 6 in mathematics achievement according to TIMSS-R in 1999, the largest, most comprehensive and rigorous comparative international study of math and science achievement. Following on the heels of Naperville students in science achievement came Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Hungary, Japan and Republic of Korea.

"We did expect to do well," says Jodi Wirt, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for secondary students in District 203, which is 35 miles west of Chicago. "I don't think we expected to do as well as we did ... The result did surprise us and it did delight us."

Quoting U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, she says, "What appears to make a difference in general is that when school districts have clear content standards and performance standards it makes a difference because parents, students and teachers know the expectations. `This is where we want our students to be and what we want them to know and be able to do at various grade levels' ... It's very focused."

The initial Third International Mathematics and Science Study was conducted in 1995. Then in 1999, TIMMS-Repeat retested some of the same students four years later. The tests are designed to determine how students are faring in math and science achievement after a decade where many states and school districts in the U.S. created content and performance standards that aimed to improve student achievement in both areas, according to the report.

In 1995, TIMMS involved 42 countries at three grade levels, including fourth- and eighth-grades. The 1999 TIMSS-R involved 38 countries, 26 of which were repeats from the 1995 study.

The TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking Study included 13 states and 14 districts or consortia of districts across the U.S. that volunteered to take the test. Participation provided states, districts and consortia to assess the comparative international standing of their students' achievement and evaluate their math and science programs in an international context.

Several other high performing U.S. schools or districts included First in the World Consortium also in Illinois, Michigan Invitational Group, Academy School District #20 in Colorado and Montgomery County, Md.

Factoring high marks

Education experts involved in the testing process say a combination of events make for successful scores in the U.S., including a high percentage of math and science teachers with a bachelor's or master's degree in the subject they teach, professional development that is transferred into meaningful lessons, and pinpointing what students should be learning.

The benchmarking study shows that some U.S. schools are among the best in the world but that a world-class education is not available to every child nationwide, according to the report. Students with more home resources, such as books, study aids and parents with higher education, attain higher achievement and fall in the top performing districts, the report states.

But socioeconomic status and race also play a role, according to the report. TIMSS results show students in urban districts often attend schools with fewer resources than in non-urban districts, including a less challenging curriculum.

For example, Jersey City, N.J., has been reforming its schools the past few years, with more teacher training, having more teachers certified in the classes they teach and using more problem solving in math, according to Patrick Gonzales, project officer for TIMSS-R at the National Center for Education Statistics, which helps fund TIMSS-R's assessment. But a closer look reveals that Jersey City, which fell in the lowest achievement area in TIMSS-R, has low attendance and discipline issues, Gonzales says.

"I'm not saying it causes low achievement, but so many factors need to be in place," Gonzales says. "The system needs to be whole ... If you can't get the kids to class, you can have the best teachers in the world and you won't get [high scores]," he says.

While white students make up 87 percent of Naperville's student population, First in the World Consortium has a mix of students from 50 ethnic groups and various socioeconomic backgrounds, according to David J. Kroeze, superintendent of Northbrook School District, a participating district. And the consortium still scored in the top percentile--finishing in the top four for science achievement worldwide and top seven for math achievement.

Eighteen districts comprised the consortium and participated in the initial TIMSS, which led then-President Clinton to publicly congratulate them on their achievement.

Key components of success for First in the World include high curricula expectations from students, such as teaching pattern relations and geometry concepts in elementary grades; taking an in-depth look at student data and analyzing what students are and are not learning; and having 55 percent of its students finishing algebra or geometry by the end of eighth-grade, Kroeze says. Nationwide, 25 percent of eighth-graders are taking algebra, he says.

But First in the World's focus is also about sharing knowledge with other districts on how to be successful, Kroeze says. The district contributed to developing an interactive Web site, www., that other districts around the state, nation and world could access to learn how they measure up to other districts. It also assists districts in mapping out new math and science curricula. "We did it because we knew that other school districts didn't have the resources to do that," he says. "I applaud Naperville for performing as well as they did. But we're not the only districts that can perform competitively. They are all over the country and that is validated by TIMSS. The real heroes are cities like Jersey City, Miami-Dade, Chicago.... They didn't come out as well, but they took the risk to find out how they compete against other countries. And they can see ... Here's how we can improve.' That took a lot of courage."

Naperville's tips

In Naperville, where the per-pupil expenditure is $6,680 versus the Illinois state average of $7,146, students are the beneficiaries of a host of extras that many districts may not offer, according to Wirt. Every elementary classroom's walls are covered in posters and charts that help kids learn vocabulary in science and understand the thinking process similar to scientific thinking.

Science is also taught through investigation using kits in K-5 grades while teachers shy away from primarily using textbooks. "They [students] are acting like scientists, learning vocabulary, testing hypotheses--that curiosity and inquisitiveness about the world--that's what we are developing," Wirt says.

"They aren't merely regurgitating information but they are understanding why it's important and how it relates to other things they are studying," she says. "It's real-life connections."

And younger students are encouraged to foster reasoning and problem-solving in math and steer away from "the plug-and-chug" lesson of inserting numbers in a formula to get answers, Wirt says. About 90 percent of Naperville's eighth-graders take algebra, compared to the 25 percent national average.

The district focuses on specific staff development for elementary school teachers who, for example, might need to learn more about statistics to be more comfortable with it.

And the district has questions for every student in K-12 that makes them think beyond facts. For example, kindergarteners are asked how connections shape their world. They are then taught about relationships with their parents, family members and pets and that is expanded to the community and school, she says. "You begin to focus on concepts instead of facts," Wirt says.

Wirt adds that the elementary math curriculum includes five focus areas, including numbers and operation, statistics and probability, algebra and geometry. "Those are the areas TIMSS tested and that's what we weave in and out of curriculum at all grade levels, starting in kindergarten," she says.

Always room for improvement

While Singapore, Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Japan scored better in math than competing countries overall, and Singapore and Chinese Taipei scored in the top percent in science, experts say American schools should be doing better.

U.S. schools overall fell in the middle of the pack in both math and science achievement compared to other countries, or 35th out of 65 nations, states, school districts and consortia.

"When you consider our wealth, one would think we could do much better," says Elizabeth VanderPutten, program director for TIMSS at the National Science Foundation.

Gonzales says despite some gains, such as that black students significantly improved in math over four years, the U.S. falls below other countries likely due to, in part, that most eighth-graders are not exposed to geometry until ninth or 10th grade, whereas students in other nations have already gone through it.

Also comparing the TIMSS studies, where the same students were tested in fourth grade in 1995 and then again in eighth grade in 1999, U.S. students are not moving forward as quickly as some other countries, such as in Asia or Europe, where some students were below the U.S. in 1995 and then markedly improved in the 1999 test.

Gonzales believes it is likely due to a number of reasons, including that other countries might teach topics earlier, there is less mobility among students, and there are more focused schools that cater to individual student needs and strengths.

Focusing on goats and providing resources

At the Academy School District in a suburb of Colorado Springs, Colo., Nanette Anderson, a district spokeswoman, agrees that having goals is key to their high marks. "What we do is zero in on what students should know at certain grade levels."

Students in District 20--where 4 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch--scored as high or higher in science than all but one of the 27 participants in the U.S. And the average scores were as high as students in Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands. In math, the district scored as high or higher than all but four of the 27 participants in the U.S. They scored as well as students in Netherlands, Hungary, Slovenia and Canada.

Alisabeth Hohn, director for learning services at the Academy School District, says having enough resources for teachers to do their job, such as space and library materials, is a factor. And interestingly enough, Hohn says classroom interruption plays a role. Classes in the U.S. are often interrupted with announcements for administrative or student activities, whereas students in Singapore and Hong Kong report rare, if any, interruptions, Hohn says. "Those that had the lowest performance had regular interruptions," she says. "So we asked, `How do we maximize the quality of class time?' ... I think the information is so in our face that it forces us to step back and ask, `How do we do this even better?'"

Success despite economic status

For the Michigan Invitational Group, roughly 900 students in 21 schools scored in the top six in science and the top 12 in math despite the range of students from low and high economic status.

Most districts chosen to take part in TIMSS were part of a local university math project. According to Bob Dunn, math educational consultant for the group, the group focused on a well-documented curriculum, using well-researched materials and assessment data and having active staff development.

"The state is cohesive," he says. "The educational community regarding math is pretty good. We're not fighting with each other about what ought to be taught."

A need for teacher appreciation

Lee V. Stiff, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, says that between the 1995 and 1999 tests, it shows some improvement in math and science, but many U.S. districts are still lagging in the lower tier. He says states should be requiring more teacher certification in the subject they teach, but the U.S. doesn't even have enough teachers--period. "We don't have the luxury to require it," he says. Conversely, being a teacher in China or Japan is a high-status job that pays nearly comparable to an attorney or top business manager in the U.S., Stiff says. "Teachers need to be paid more," he adds.

Stiff says appropriate use of technology in the classroom and giving teachers more time, such as cutting back on lunchroom duty so teachers could use the time to learn more math or share with other teachers their successes would help students.

Teachers also need more resources and more professional development to enrich classrooms, he says. "We've got to have a more reasoned approach to how we teach math in our system," Stiff says. "I do not think testing alone is the key. Just because you weigh a hog over and over, it doesn't make him fatter. The key to them being successful is to feed them, feed them knowledge."

VanderPutten says students can start younger and districts should design curricula so "we are teaching more deeply conceptually and procedurally"--meaning students don't just know how to add, subtract and multiply, but know what the concepts mean and when to apply them.

"We need that sustained commitment," she says, "and systemic approach to the problem."
Mathematics Achievement


Singapore 604 (a)
Korea, Rep. of 587 (a)
Chinese Taipei 585 (a)
Hong Kong, SAR 582 (a)
Japan 579 (a)
Naperville Sch. Dist. #203, IL 569 (b)
First in the World Consort., IL 560 (b)
Belgium (Flemish) 558 (a)
Netherlands 540 (a)
Montgomery County, MD 537 (b)
Slovak Republic 534 (a)
Michigan Invitational Group, MI 532 (b)
Hungary 532 (a)
Canada 531 (a)
Slovenia 530 (a)
Academy School Dist. #20, CO 528 (b)
Russian Federation 526 (a)
Australia 525 (a)
Project SMART Consortium, OH 521 (b)
Finland 520 (a)
Czech Republic 520 (a)
Malaysia 519 (a)
SW Math/Sci. Collaborative, PA 517 (b)
Michigan 517 (c)
Texas 516 (c)
Indiana 515 (c)
Oregon 514 (c)
Guilford County, NC 514 (b)
Massachusetts 513 (c
Connecticut 512 (c)
Bulgaria 511 (a)
Illinois 509 (b)
Pennsylvania 507 (b)
Latvia (LSS) 505 (a)
United States 502 (a)
South Carolina 502 (c)
England 496 (a)
North Carolina 495 (c)
Idaho 495 (c)
Maryland 495 (c)
New Zealand 491 (a)
Missouri 490 (c)
Fremont/Lincoln/WestSide PS, NE 488 (a)
Lithuania 482 (a)
Delaware Science Coalition, DE 479 (b)
Italy 479 (a)
Cyprus 476 (a)
Jersey City Public Schools, NJ 475 (b)
Romania 472 (a)
Moldova 469 (a)
Thailand 467 (a)
Israel 466 (a)
Chicago Public Schools, IL 462 (b)
Tunisia 448 (a)
Macedonia, Rep. of 447 (a)
Rochester City School Dist., NY 444 (b)
Turkey 429 (a)
Jordan 428 (a)
Iran, Islamic Rep. 422 (a)
Miami-Dade County PS, FL 421 (b)
Indonesia 403 (a)
Chile 392 (a)
Philippines 345 (a)
Morocco 337 (a)
South Africa 275 (a)
International Average: 487

Science Achievement


Naperville Sch. Dist. #203, IL 584 (b)
Chinese Taipei 569 (a)
Singapore 568 (a)
First in the World Consort., IL 565 (b)
Michigan Invitational Group, MI 563 (b)
Academy School Dist. #20, CO 559 (b)
Hungary 552 (a)
Japan 550 (a)
Korea, Rep. of 549 (a)
Netherlands 545 (a)
Michigan 544 (c)
SW Math/Sci. Collaborative, PA 543 (b)
Australia 540 (a)
Czech Republic 539 (a)
Project SMART Consortium, OH 539 (b)
England 538 (a)
Oregon 536 (c)
Finland 535 (a)
Slovak Republic 535 (a)
Belgium (Flemish) 535 (a)
Indiana 534 (c)
Guilford County, NC 534 (b)
Slovenia 533 (a)
Massachusetts 533 (c)
Canada 533 (a)
Montgomery County, MD 531 (b)
Hong Kong SAR 530 (a)
Connecticut 529 (c)
Russian Federation 529 (a)
Pennsylvania 529 (c)
Idaho 526 (c)
Missouri 523 (c)
Illinois 521 (c)
Bulgaria 518 (a)
United States 515 (a)
Fremont/Lincoln/WestSide PS, NE 511 (b)
South Carolina 511 (c)
New Zealand 510 (a)
Texas 509 (c)
North Carolina 508 (c)
Maryland 506 (c)
Latvia (LSS) 503 (a)
Delaware Science Coalition, DE 500 (b)
Italy 493 (a)
Malaysia 492 (a)
Lithuania 488 (a)
Thailand 482 (a)
Romania 472 (a)
Israel 468 (a)
Cyprus 460 (a)
Moldova 459 (a)
Macedonia, Rep. of 458 (a)
Rochester City School Dist., NY 452 (b)
Jordan 450 (a)
Chicago Public Schools, IL 449 (b)
Iran, Islamic Rep. 448 (a)
Jersey City Public Schools, NJ 440 (b)
Indonesia 435 (a)
Turkey 433 (a)
Tunisia 430 (a)
Miami-Dade County PS, FL 426 (b)
Chile 420 (a)
Philippines 345 (a)
Morocco 323 (a)
South Africa 243 (a)
International Average: 488

(a) Countries
(b) Districts of Consortia
(c) States

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Angela Pascopella, apascopella@, is associate features editor.
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Author:Pascopella, Angela
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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