On December 11, 2012, the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center released the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and news reports from around the world are already trying to interpret the results.
Reports in Norway note that students are performing better in reading, mathematics and science, and that (particularly in 4th grade math scores) they are catching up with Finland. Drastic improvements made the news in Russia and Israel, although in Israel a dramatic gap between Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking students was also recognized.
In Australia, the results were considered a disappointment, especially in consideration of the Prime Minister’s ambitious education goals and plans for additional school funding. In response to the unexpectedly low scores, Geoff Masters (Chief Executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research) explained on Australia’s AM radio program, “We know from international research and experience ourselves that what really makes a difference is the quality of the teaching that’s occurring in classrooms, the quality of the leadership of schools.”
Northern Ireland emerged as Europe’s top performing education system for primary maths. Students in the Republic of Ireland performed nicely as well, ranking 10th in reading out of 45 countries, 17th in maths out of 50 countries, and 22nd in science out of 50 countries; however, Ireland is not ranked among the top performing countries in any of the three tests. As a result, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has said that he would like to see more time devoted to science and maths in Irish schools, rather than Irish and religion. “That’s why we’ve asked for the divestment by the Catholic church of many of the primary schools that they currently have.”
Singapore students enjoyed high scores, as they have in previous years, but government officials expressed concern about the students lack of confidence – an issue they hope to address with their new student-centric, values-driven educational model.
While South Africa (along with Honduras and Botswana) reported the lowest scores in math and science, South Africa reported a significant improvement amongst the “most disadvantaged” students – a fact that “coincides with learners and schools receiving the highest number of interventions aimed at improving the quality of education, from both public and private sector providers.”
In the U.S., The Hechinger Report explains that while there have been some gains, U.S. students continue to lag behind their Asian peers.