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NEWS RELEASES 2000-01 :: APRIL 04, 2001


Mathematics and science performance of North Carolina's eighth graders is similar to the average performance of eighth graders internationally. This is among the findings of a new study released today by the International Study Center at Boston College.

Eighth graders in the United States performed significantly above the international average in mathematics and science, according to results released earlier. This performance by U.S. students was in the middle of the participating countries.

North Carolina was one of 13 states that voluntarily participated in TIMSS 1999, a successor to the 1995 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) that focused on the mathematics and science achievement of eighth grade students. The Guilford County school system was one of 14 school districts or consortia across the nation that also participated in the study. Guilford was the only North Carolina school district that participated as a district. A sample of eighth graders from districts across North Carolina also took the tests, and their scores were used to determine the state's results.

A total of 3,097 students from 67 schools were tested in North Carolina's sample. The national sample included 9,072 students from across the United States.

TIMSS results help North Carolina educators see areas where the state can improve student performance. For example, many countries that do very well in mathematics introduce subjects such as algebra much earlier in a student's schooling. States and school districts where students are more likely to come from homes with high levels of educational resources were among the top achievers in TIMSS 1999. Among the participating states, North Carolina had the lowest percentage of students with a high level of educational resources in the home.

Other factors known to affect student performance in science and math include a strong emphasis on reasoning and problem solving, teachers who hold a university degree in these subjects, few classroom interruptions for administrative tasks and an emphasis on experiments or practical investigations.

State Board of Education Chairman Phillip J. Kirk Jr. said the results provide North Carolina with good comparison data and illustrate the need for high standards for all students. He said, "Our state competes internationally in so many ways. Our economy is so closely connected to the preparation students get in our public schools. We must continue to expect more of students and ensure that they are prepared for the next level of learning."

In presenting the results at today's State Board of Education meeting, State Superintendent Mike Ward said that North Carolina was pleased to be one of 13 states to participate in the study. "TIMSS offers an international comparison that our state has never had before. Information on our students' performance compared to their peers internationally will allow us to identify strategies to become even more competitive with other nations."

According to the report, average performance in mathematics for the 13 benchmarking states was generally clustered in the middle of the international distribution of results for the 38 countries. In mathematics, all of the benchmarking states performed either significantly above or similar to the international average, yet significantly below the five highest performing countries, which are all Asian. North Carolina's score of 495 in math was not significantly different from the international score of 487. The U.S. score of 502 was significantly different. Guilford County scored 514, above the international and U.S. averages.

In science, performance for the 13 states was relatively better than in mathematics, with performance clustered in the upper half of the international distribution. Unlike most of the other states that participated, North Carolina's science average was not significantly above the international average. North Carolina's score was 508 while the international average was 488, and the U.S. average was 515. Again, Guilford County's score of 534 was above the international and U.S. averages.

North Carolina's curriculum leaders say that there are efforts under way to continue to improve math and science education in the state, including the development of new curricula in mathematics and science in the last two years. Curriculum changes include: reducing the number of objectives at each grade level, mastering basic skills in early grades, requiring mastery of major concepts at each grade, focusing on application and problem-solving, requiring higher order thinking and communication of mathematical concepts, developing algebraic thinking in elementary grades, and incorporating technology. Other improvements include a continued focus on professional development of teachers, participation in the Southern Region Education Board's school reform efforts, and development of curriculum support documents to help teachers deliver effective instruction. It is important to note that the North Carolina students who took the 1999 TIMSS test had not had the benefit of the recent revisions in the mathematics and science curricula.

Other states that participated in the study were: Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.

The top performing countries in mathematics in TIMSS 1999 were all Asian - Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong SAR and Japan. In science, the countries with the highest performance were Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Hungary, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

For additional information, please contact Lou Fabrizio, Director of Accountability Services, NC Department of Public Instruction, at 919.807.3770, or June Atkinson, Director of Instructional Services, at 919.807.3815.

For a complete copy of the Mathematics and Science Benchmarking Reports: TIMSS 1999 - Eighth Grade, please go to

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.