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Last modified: Monday, March 25, 2013

CEEP report: Indiana eighth-graders outperform much of world in math, science

Analysis of TIMSS 2011 data finds performance above U.S. average, ahead of top performers like Finland, Hong Kong

March 25, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. --An analysis of data from a large-scale international mathematics and science test reveals that Indiana eighth-graders outperformed most of the world and scored ahead of the U.S. average, continuing a trend for the state.

A new report from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University found good news in the math and science results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, though the analysis revealed a gender gap in achievement. The report is titled "Indiana's TIMSS 2011 Performance: Outperforming Much of the World, But Issues Remain for Gender Achievement and High Performers."

Indiana eighth-graders took the international math and science test, referred to as TIMSS, in 2011. Just six educational systems around the world scored significantly better in mathematics, placing Indiana's performance ahead widely touted education performers including Finland. Just five countries had a statistically better average score than Indiana in science.

"There's room for improvement, but we're competitive in the world," said David Rutkowski, assistant professor of educational policy at the IU School of Education and a co-author of the report. "There's so much negative press about educational systems in the United States and even within the state of Indiana, but here's something to celebrate."

"Indiana performed as well or better than some of these educational systems that are the features of 'educational tourism' such as Finland and Hong Kong," said Leslie Rutkowski, assistant professor of inquiry methodology at the IU School of Education. "It's a bit of an 'Indiana Miracle' alongside the Finland Miracle."

The report's third co-author is Justin Wild, doctoral student of philosophy in educational policy studies at the IU School of Education.

The TIMSS test focuses on how students are learning specific material from an internationally agreed upon curriculum in math and science. It's administered every four years to students in fourth and eighth grades. Indiana did not participate in fourth-grade testing in 2011.

Comparing Indiana's performance over the last two eighth-grade tests in 1999 and 2003 -- Indiana eighth-graders did not participate in 2007 -- Hoosier students have remained above the U.S. average in both science and math.

The analysis also revealed areas for concern, including boys outperforming girls in mathematics by 8 points, and a need for more students at the highest performance level. "It looks like there is a gender gap in our state," David Rutkowski said. "And we need to move and have more advanced students in mathematics and science. To be competitive in the global economy, we don't solely need a group of students that are performing well; we need a group of students exceeding our expectations. There's room for improvement in Indiana and the whole United States."

Leslie Rutkowski emphasized that the TIMSS findings reveal there is much good happening in Indiana schools that should be studied to determine how to build upon it. "Why is it that Indiana compares so well, internationally?" she asked. "What is it we're doing right? Let's figure out how to do more of it with the limited resources that we have."

Based on the TIMSS analysis, the authors offer several recommendations:

  • Indiana should tout the success as a top-performing education system to show the state's students are globally competitive in math and science.
  • Policymakers should focus on the significant gender gap between boys and girls.
  • Policymakers should focus on cultivating more high-performing students to better prepare for high-tech professions and improve Indiana's worldwide standing.
  • TIMSS results should be paired with other information to better inform education policy decisions; the issue of gender inequality and the low percentage of advanced students should be a point of focus.
  • Indiana teachers should be recognized and congratulated for producing consistently positive results from the TIMSS assessment.

"We have a long way to go to be perfect," Leslie Rutkowski said. "We can always be better. But we really have a lot of reasons to give ourselves a pat on the back."

You can hear from the report authors in this short video on the IU School of Education YouTube channel.

The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, one of the country's leading nonpartisan education policy and program evaluation centers, promotes and supports rigorous evaluation and research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations. Center projects address state, national and international education questions. CEEP is part of the IU School of Education.