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Who’s Smarter Than Texans?: Math and Science Test Scores Compared to the World and Nation

Are U.S. students really as horrible in math and science as the media would have us to believe? How do “reform” oriented states like Texas, Florida and Louisiana stack up against other nations across the world? Other U.S. states? While perfect apples to apples comparisons between U.S. states and international education data do not exist, we can use existing data to provide a general idea about how the Lone Star State compares to some nations in the world. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA is an assessment that focuses on 15-year-olds’ capabilities in reading, mathematics, and science in OECD countries worldwide.[i] Relative to all OECD countries, the U.S. performed at 36th in math, 28th in science, and 24th in reading on the 2012 PISA. However, it must be noted that the U.S. sample was based on students testing in only three states: Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts. To our knowledge, NCES has not released a linkage study to understand international comparative achievement beyond the three states that participated in the PISA assessments.[ii] As a result, to contrast student achievement for U.S. states to OECD countries around the world, I use NAEP data standardized by NCES and compared to Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) data. What is the TIMSS?

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) provides reliable and timely data on the mathematics and science achievement of U.S. 4th- and 8th-grade students compared to that of students in other countries.[iii]

Table 1 shows that the top performing states on the NAEP/TIMSS math achievement comparison data were bounded by Massachusetts (outperformed 42 countries) and New York (outperformed 40 countries). The only southern state represented in the top ten is North Carolina— which came in 7th in the nation. Texas placed 26th in the United States.

Table 1. NAEP/TIMSS Math Achievement Comparison: Texas, U.S., and World

   

U.S. Rank

Comparison to OECD Countries

N N= N+
Top Ten States Massachusetts

1

 

4

1

42

  Vermont

2

 

5

1

41

  Minnesota

3

 

5

1

41

  New Jersey

4

 

5

1

41

  New Hampshire

5

 

5

1

41

  North Carolina

6

 

5

2

40

  Maine

7

 

5

2

40

  Wisconsin

8

 

5

2

40

  Montana

9

 

5

2

40

  New York

10

 

6

1

40

   

 

 

 

 

 

  Texas

26

 

7

6

34

   

 

 

 

 

 

Bottom Ten States Louisiana

42

 

11

8

28

  Georgia

43

 

11

8

28

  New Mexico

44

 

14

6

27

  California

45

 

14

7

26

  West Virginia

46

 

17

3

27

  Oklahoma

47

 

17

4

26

  Tennessee

48

 

18

3

26

  District Of Columbia

49

 

18

6

23

  Mississippi

50

 

19

5

23

  Alabama

51

 

21

7

19

  U.S. National    

7

10

30

Source: NCES NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study[iv]

Table 2 shows that Texas was outperformed by seven (Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, and Quebec, Canada) countries/localities (Denoted by “-” in Tables 1-4). Texas performed on par with Israel, Australia, Finland, Ontario, Canada, England, and the United States (Denoted by “=” in Tables 1-4). Notably, Texas performed better than 34 countries (i.e. Italy, New Zealand, Sweden and Chile) in the math achievement comparison (Denoted by “+” in Tables 1-4).

Table 2. Texas, Top Ten, and Bottom Ten: NAEP/TIMSS Math: States vs. Countries

 

Korea

Singapore

Chinese Taipei

Hong Kong

Japan

Russia

Quebec, Canada

Israel

Finland

Ontario, Canada

United States

England

Alberta, Canada

Hungary

Australia

Slovenia

Lithuania

Italy

New Zealand

Kazakhstan

Sweden

Ukraine

Dubai, UAE

Massachusetts  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Vermont  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Minnesota  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Jersey  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Hampshire  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
North Carolina  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Maine  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Wisconsin  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Montana  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New York  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Texas  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Louisiana  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +
Georgia  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +
New Mexico  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +
California  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +
West Virginia  =  =  =  +  +  +
Oklahoma  =  =  =  =  +  +
Tennessee  =  =  =  +  +
District Of Columbia  =  =  =  =  =
Mississippi  =  =  =  =
Alabama  =  =
U.S. National  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +

Source: NCES NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study[iv]

Table 2. Texas, Top Ten, and Bottom Ten: NAEP/TIMSS Math: States vs. Countries (continued)

 

Norway

Armenia

Romania

UAE

Turkey

Lebanon

Abu Dhabi

Malaysia

Georgia

Thailand

Macedonia

Tunisia

Chile

Iran

Qatar

Bahrain

Jordan

Palestinian Auth.

Saudi Arabia

Indonesia

Syria

Morocco

Oman

Ghana

Massachusetts  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Vermont  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Minnesota  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Jersey  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Hampshire  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
North Carolina  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Maine  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Wisconsin  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Montana  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New York  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Texas  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Louisiana  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Georgia  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Mexico  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
California  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
West Virginia  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Oklahoma  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Tennessee  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
District Of Columbia  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Mississippi  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Alabama  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
U.S. National  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Source: NCES NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study[iv]

Table 3 shows that the top performing states on the NAEP/TIMSS science achievement comparison data were bounded by Massachusetts (outperformed 43 countries) and Wyoming (outperformed 39 countries). There are no southern states represented in the top ten. Texas placed 35th in the United States— a 9-place drop from its math achievement ranking.

Table 3. NAEP/TIMSS Science Achievement Comparison: Texas, U.S., and World

   

U.S. Rank

Comparison to OECD Countries

N N= N+
Top Ten States Massachusetts

1

 

1

3

43

  Vermont

2

 

1

3

43

  New Hampshire

3

 

1

4

42

  North Dakota

4

 

2

3

42

  Maine

5

 

2

3

42

  Minnesota

6

 

2

6

39

  Montana

7

 

3

4

40

  Wisconsin

8

 

3

5

39

  New Jersey

9

 

3

5

39

  Wyoming

10

 

4

4

39

   

 

 

 

 

 

  Texas

35

 

9

7

31

   

 

 

 

 

 

Bottom Ten States South Carolina

42

 

10

8

29

  Louisiana

43

 

11

8

28

  Nevada

44

 

13

6

28

  New Mexico

45

 

14

5

28

  Arizona

46

 

14

7

26

  Hawaii

47

 

15

6

26

  California

48

 

19

4

24

  Mississippi

49

 

21

4

22

  Alabama

50

 

21

5

21

  District Of Columbia

51

 

28

5

14

  U.S. National    

9

7

31

Source: NCES NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study[iv]

Table 4 shows Texas was outperformed by nine countries/localities (Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Japan, Finland, Alberta, Canada, Slovenia, Russia, Hong Kong). Texas performed on par with England, Hungary, Ontario, Canada, Quebec, Canada, Australia, Israel, and the United States. Notably, Texas performed better than 31 countries in the science achievement comparison.

Table 4. Texas, Top Ten, and Bottom Ten: NAEP/TIMSS Science: States vs. Countries

 

Singapore

Chinese Taipei

Korea

Japan

Finland

Alberta, Canada

Slovenia

Russia

Hong Kong

England

United States

Hungary

Ontario, Canada

Quebec, Canada

Australia

Israel

Lithuania

New Zealand

Sweden

Italy

Ukraine

Norway

Kazakhstan

Massachusetts  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Vermont  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Hampshire  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
North Dakota  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Maine  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Minnesota  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Montana  =  =  =  +  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Wisconsin  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Jersey  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Wyoming  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Texas  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
South Carolina  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +
Louisiana  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +
Nevada  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +
New Mexico  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +
Arizona  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +
Hawaii  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +
California  =  =  =  =
Mississippi  =  =
Alabama  =  =
District Of Columbia
U.S. National  =  =  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Source: NCES NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study[iv]

Table 4. Texas, Top Ten, and Bottom Ten: NAEP/TIMSS Science: States vs. Countries (continued)

 

Dubai, UAE

Turkey

Iran

Romania

UAE

Chile

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Bahrain

Thailand

Jordan

Tunisia

Armenia

Saudi Arabia

Malaysia

Syria

Palestinian Auth.

Georgia

Oman

Qatar

Macedonia

Lebanon

Indonesia

Morocco

Ghana

Massachusetts  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Vermont  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Hampshire  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
North Dakota  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Maine  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Minnesota  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Montana  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Wisconsin  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Jersey  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Wyoming  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Texas  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
South Carolina  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Louisiana  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Nevada  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
New Mexico  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Arizona  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Hawaii  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
California  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Mississippi  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
Alabama  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
District Of Columbia  =  =  =  =  =  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +
U.S. National  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +  +

Source: NCES NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study[iv]

Summary

How do Texas educational outcomes compare to other countries? Based on the NCES NAEP/TIMSS linking study, Texas compares very favorably to OECD countries on math and science assessments at 4th and 8th grade— only half a dozen countries are outperforming the Lone Star State. (How does your state perform?) However, the NAEP/TIMSS linking study rankings of 26th (math) and 35th (science) for Texas are average when compared to other U.S. states— specifically those on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Thus, relative to all 50 U.S. states, Texas does not typically compare very favorably. However, international comparisons portray Texas and U.S. public education in a very positive light in the 4th and 8th grade, but not at age 15. Thus, our public education system is not problematic writ large in the early grades relative to the world context, but Texas is clearly outperformed by many states large and small.

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[i] See: nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa

[ii] Florida was one of three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida–that participated in the PISA testing. Massachusetts did very well, typically scoring above the OECD average and the US average, as you might expect of the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP. Connecticut also did well. But Florida did not do well at all. It turns out that the highly touted ”Florida model” of testing, accountability, and choice was not competitive. In math, Florida performed below the OECD average and below the U.S. average. In science, Florida performed below the OECD average and at the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above both the OECD and U.S. average, but Florida performed at average for both. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/12/03/four-lessons-on-new-pisa-scores-ravitch/

 

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About Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig (667 Articles)
Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning researcher and teacher. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State Sacramento.

9 Comments on Who’s Smarter Than Texans?: Math and Science Test Scores Compared to the World and Nation

  1. The problem is pretending that demographics don’t matter. A recent Phd graduate at Chicago (my fair school) Tino Sandanaji (he’s a Kurdish Swede or Swedish Kurd – clearly the Kurds got to pick last when ethnic names were given out) analyzed PISA scores but only compared Americans of European Descent to European Scores. When one does that one finds the US ranked at the very top, tied with the Chinese (which is really only Shanghainese), Koreans and Finns. I suspect educational attainment among US Latinos is the highest for any group of Latinos in the world and likewise for African Americans and Asians. The US is not like other countries – it’s a continental scale multicultural empire. And likewise TX is not like overwhelmingly euro white MA. Failing to take these obvious differences into account leads one to very badly flawed conclusions. Otherwise bravo for taking a look a the state level – we’re getting a tad more sophisticated. But read Sandanaji’s analysis here: http://www.tino.us/2010/12/the-amazing-truth-about-pisa-scores-usa-beats-western-europe-ties-with-asia/. It’s the real thing.

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  2. Interesting note, when comparing education by race, Texas whites scored in the top 10, Texas Hispanics scored in the top 10, Texas blacks scored in the top 5…Putting Texas near or at #1 in the nation..The reason its overall score is low is because its 60+% minority..Although Texas minorities overall rank #1 in education compared to other states, they still fall behind whites..In the north where 10 states have 90+% white they score higher in avg although may score worse on every test..Something to think about..

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  3. Nice to see this article. Keep it up.

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  4. Part of the displayed data is covered in black. I’m viewing in Firefox. Would you make available a downloadable file? TIA

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  5. It would be useful to have the data displayed so one can read all the entries. Is there a file one can dl?

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