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TIMSS are not people, they are tests! 

Results from the 2011 TIMSS (Trends In International Mathematics and Science Study) have been released.  Last year, North Carolina was one of 14 "benchmarking entities" to participate. 

So, how did the Tar Heel State compare to the 63 countries and fellow benchmarking entities that had a sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students take TIMSS tests?  Obviously, you will have to read the CommenTerry to find out.

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North Carolina was one of a handful of U.S. states to participate in TIMSS (Trends In International Mathematics and Science Study) testing of fourth- and eighth-grade students from around the world.

In the TIMSS study, North Carolina fared well.  In fourth-grade math, North Carolina scored higher than samples of students from 50 other nations, states, and territories including England, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States.  North Carolina’s scores were comparable to Northern Ireland, Belgium, Finland, and a strange land called Florida.  Unfortunately, our state scored lower than all of the representative nations from the Pacific Rim — Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong SAR, Chinese Taipei, and Japan.

In eighth-grade math, North Carolina ranked behind Massachusetts and Minnesota, two states that did not have students participate in the fourth-grade assessment.  North Carolina scored higher than 48 nations on the eighth-grade math test and had a score that was comparable to Russia, Minnesota, Quebec, and Indiana.  Again, our state had lower scores than South Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong SAR, and Japan.  In addition, Massachusetts outperformed North Carolina on the eighth-grade test.

In fourth-grade science, South Korea, Singapore, Finland, Japan, Russia, and Chinese Taipei outperformed North Carolina.  Our state’s scores were comparable to 15 other nations and were higher than 39 nations, states, and territories.  Similarly, North Carolina scored lower than Singapore, Chinese Taipei, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Alberta, Canada in eighth-grade science.  North Carolina had scores that were comparable to 14 countries.  Thirty-seven participants could not compete with eighth-graders from the Tar Heel state.

TIMSS math results confirm what we have known for years.  Math instruction in North Carolina continues to produce superior results on standardized tests.   Since 2000, our state’s fourth- and eighth-grade NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) math scores have exceeded the national average.  Although the gap has narrowed in recent years, North Carolina’s fourth-grade students scored four points higher than the national average in 2011, while eighth-grade students had a two-point advantage.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to examine long-term trends in science performance.  NAEP began administering science tests to states in 2009.

Before we get too excited about the number of countries that North Carolina outperformed, it is necessary to acknowledge that participating countries included nations like Kazakhstan, Malta, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen.  Mecklenburg County alone has more than twice the population of Malta.  And I’ll take a box of Bojangles’ chicken over fenek moqli any day.

North Carolina has participated in the TIMSS math and science tests once before.  North Carolina’s science score rose by 24 points between 1999 and 2011.  Our state scored a relatively low 495 on the 1999 eighth-grade math test.  It was so low that even Malaysia had a higher math score in that year.  In 2011, North Carolina’s average score was 537, a 42-point increase from twelve years prior.  And, yes, we exacted revenge on those Malaysians, who had an astounding 79-point drop between 1999 and 2011!

The most important thing to remember is that we do not know why eighth-grade math and science scores increased from 1999 to 2011 or, for that matter, why fourth- and eighth-grade scores were higher than most participating countries, states, and territories.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear left-wing pundits attribute the scores to "investments" in pre-K, numerous state programs, and increases in teacher pay.  There is no evidence that any government expenditure or initiative deserves the credit. 

Similarly, there may be a temptation from those on the Right to credit the increase in scores to the expansion of charter schools, school choice generally, residual effects from No Child Left Behind, and the like.  Don’t go there.  Instead, challenge those who do to produce evidence to that back their foolish claims.

Random Thought

SpongeBob SquarePants was right.  Don’t be a jerk.  It’s Christmas.

Facts and Stats

Countries Participating in TIMSS 2011:






Belgium (Flemish)



Chinese Taipei


Czech Republic








Hong Kong SAR



Iran, Islamic Rep. of







Korea, Rep. of








The Netherlands

New Zealand

Northern Ireland



Palestinian Nat’l Auth.





Russian Federation

Saudi Arabia



Slovak Republic


South Africa



Syrian Arab Republic





United Arab Emirates

United States


Benchmarking Participants

Alberta, Canada

Ontario, Canada

Quebec, Canada

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Dubai, UAE

Alabama, USA

California, USA

Colorado, USA

Connecticut, USA

Florida, USA

Indiana, USA

Massachusetts, USA

Minnesota, USA

North Carolina, USA

Education Acronym of the Week

TIMSS – Trends In International Mathematics and Science Study

Quotes of the Week

"East Asian countries continue to lead the world in mathematics achievement. Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong SAR, followed by Chinese Taipei and Japan, were the top performing countries at the fourth grade. Similarly, at the eighth grade, Korea, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei outperformed all other countries, followed by Hong Kong SAR and Japan."

– Ina V.S. Mullis, Michael O. Martin, Pierre Foy, and Alka Arora, "TIMSS 2011 International Results in Mathematics," p. 21

"Korea and Singapore were the top-performing countries in science in TIMSS 2011 at the fourth grade, followed by Finland, Japan, the Russian Federation, and Chinese Taipei. At the eighth grade, Singapore had the highest average achievement. The next highest performing countries — Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Japan — had higher achievement than all other countries except Singapore. Finland was the next highest-performing country."

– Michael O. Martin, Ina V.S. Mullis, Pierre Foy, and Gabrielle M. Stanco, "TIMSS 2011 International Results in Science," p. 6-7

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