Surprise! Indiana students among world’s best in math and science

The basic assumption behind education reform in Indiana – the belief that drives high-stakes testing and accountability focused on students, teachers and schools – is that our public education system isn’t very good. Or at least that it isn’t what it ought to be.

But what if the assumption is wrong? Here’s some evidence that it is: Hoosier eighth-graders posted some of the world’s best scores in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which compared math and science achievement for students in 63 countries.

If Indiana were a country, it would have ranked with some of the world’s leaders.

The TIMSS results were analyzed in a policy brief produced in March by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University and written by David Rutkowski, Justin Wild and Leslie Rutkowski of the IU School of Education. But the report received almost no media attention.

“The only message we’re ever getting, and the impetus behind all this testing that we’re seeing, is that our schools are failing,” Leslie Rutkowski said last week. “We’re really not doing that badly.”

TIMSS measures how well students are learning an internationally accepted curriculum in math and science. It’s given every four years to students in fourth and eighth grades. The last round of testing was in 2011 –- significantly, before Indiana’s high-profile education reforms, including private-school vouchers, more charter schools and test-based teacher evaluations, took effect.

Indiana eighth-graders scored above the U.S. average and well above the international average in both math and science. In science, only five countries scored better than Indiana to an extent that was statistically significant. In math, only six countries scored statistically better than Hoosier eighth-graders.

Indiana even outscored Finland – the darling of international test-score comparisons – in math. It matched highly regarded Hong Kong in science. (Indiana was one of nine U.S. states that participated in TIMSS in 2011; three states had higher average scores than Indiana).

“The continued trend of performing above the national and world averages, as well as producing many high-level achieving students, is a testament to the quality of teaching that exists in the state of Indiana,” the CEEP report concludes. “Hoosier teachers should be praised for their efforts and encouraged to maintain our educationally competitive place in the global economy.”

The CEEP study – which Leslie and David Rutkowski discuss in an IU School of Education video — does note some grounds for improvement in Indiana, based on TIMSS results. The state has a gender gap, with boys scoring higher than girls in both math and science. And it lags in the number of students who score at the “advanced” or highest level on the tests.

Of course, we’re looking at average scores here, and averages can conceal individual differences. There’s no question that some students aren’t keeping up, and that some schools and districts struggle against the effects of poverty and other socio-economic factors. But the TIMSS results suggest pretty strongly that we don’t have a public education system that’s failing.

6 thoughts on “Surprise! Indiana students among world’s best in math and science

  1. Steve,
    This should be sent to Diane Ravitch’s blog. Public school teachers & students in Indiana are working hard in school everyday. This is one piece of evidence that shows we have good public schools in this state. Our governor & state legislators should support public education.

  2. Math and Science aside the students do miserably in English and history.. oh and physical health/fitness. As a college student aiming to be a teacher I have seen far too many fresh out of high school students enroll without having the ability to read college level books. oh and forget about history. With Christianity sticking their noses into the education system and creating lies and using mythological teachings the student can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction in History.

    Recently I was told by one of my students that I tutor that according to his teacher “the holocaust was propaganda posted by the government at the time to convince the world governments that they should agree to let the Jews move into what is now Jerusalem.”

    Now this rankled me as I am a veteran that served time in the middle east, I did my own research and was raised in Europe most of my life growing up. I felt I had to correct this student and pulled out the trusty laptop, jumped a few ponds worth of servers and found a few european sites and started to show him the truth.

    This is the crap that is going on in our school systems. So what that students are doing well in math and science when they are being lied to and deceived by those who should be preparing them to enter the world as future leaders.

    This report is a complete waste of bandwidth I am sorry that I had to waste my students time opening it. He sits here with me and is laughing about this report as it means nothing when even the lessons that taught children to sign their name has been removed from the curriculum.

    • I’ve spent 27 years working in public schools along with attending both Catholic & public K-12 schools & public universities in Indiana. Never, ever have I heard the Holocaust taught as propaganda. While I have no idea where you get this information about students being deceived & lied to aside from this particular student you are tutoring, this has not been my experience nor the experience of my kids who attended public schools.

      Can we improve our service delivery in all areas of curriculum to students? Absolutely. Public school teachers continually work to improve educational outcomes for all students.

    • Well, actually, US students do pretty well in international reading comparisons in both PIRLS (fourth-graders) and PISA (15-year-olds). Not the best but pretty close to it. Sorry to disappoint.

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