NC students score big win on international math, science tests

Study: Fourth- and eighth-graders were only in U.S. to excel

jstancill@newsobserver.comDecember 11, 2012 

A new report puts North Carolina students in the top ranks in math performance on tests that measure U.S. students and international competitors.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study is an international comparative study of student achievement. The 2011 results, released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, had North Carolina educators crowing.

The findings

• North Carolina was the only participating U.S. state and one of only eight education systems worldwide in which fourth-grade math students outscored the test average and the U.S. national average. The other systems were Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Northern Ireland, and Flemish Belgium.

• At the eighth-grade level, North Carolina was among only 11 states and countries to score higher than both the test average and the national average. Indiana, Massachusetts and Minnesota were the other states to reach that success.

• The science results were not quite as glowing. The North Carolina scores among fourth- and eighth-grade students exceeded the test average but not the U.S. national average. Other states that posted similar science results were Florida in fourth grade and eighth grade, and Indiana and Connecticut in eighth grade. States in which eighth-graders scored better than the U.S. average in science were Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota.

What they’re saying

June Atkinson, superintendent of public instruction, attributed the success to higher standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 2006 and deliberate effort to improve math instruction in elementary grades.

“The hard work that we started in remodeling education has begun to pay off,” she said. “Certainly the early childhood education initiative in our state has had a major impact on the improvement of our mathematics achievement. ... So it shows that we have continued to raise expectations of what our students can achieve, and we are continuing to see good results. When you think of achievement on an international scale, that’s important to North Carolina that our fourth-grade students and our eighth-grade students have done so well in mathematics.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement congratulating North Carolina.

“Students in a handful of Asian education systems still out-perform North Carolina’s students in math and science,” Duncan’s statement said. “But North Carolina’s students are doing as well as, or better than, their peers in most high-performing nations in math, and are even ahead of their counterparts in Finland. North Carolina’s school leaders and educators have shown that in a demographically-diverse state like North Carolina, poverty is not destiny in the classroom.”

More good news

Also on Tuesday, two North Carolina districts were among 16 nationally to win federal Race to the Top grants for individual school systems. The winners were the Guilford County schools, which requested $30 million, and the Iredell-Statesville schools, which requested almost $20 million. Nationally, 16 districts will share in $400 million as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s grant program meant to spur innovation and reform.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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