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Ill. Scores at Odds With Perceptions of Capabilities

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Illinois teachers and students feel confident about their knowledge of science and math, but that confidence is at odds with the state's lackluster performance in an international comparison.

The chasm has led a state task force to recommend extensive teacher training and curriculum development to ensure that Illinois students meet world-class standards in those subjects.

In its report on the state's middling ranking on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, a panel of math and science educators told the state school board last month that proper implementation of national standards and the state's frameworks in math and science is critical to becoming more competitive.

Training Called Key

"It shows us that our curriculum is such that we are not teaching things that other countries are teaching," said Richard J. Wyllie, the president of the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics and a task force member. "The standards are only as good as the implementation, but they have the potential to give us good guidance if we provide sufficient professional development in instruction and curriculum."

Despite steady improvements on state tests, Illinois' 8th graders, like students nationwide, did not measure up to their international counterparts on the timss test. A national sample of participants was selected for the U.S. assessment. Illinois, along with Colorado and Minnesota, chose to expand its sample of participating schools so test data could be used to compare their students' performance with that of students in other countries. Illinois paid more than $100,000 to be part of the study.

The sample of 2,000 Illinois students scored on a par with American students in general, but significantly lower than peers in 25 other countries in math and 16 other countries in science. Representative samples of 8th graders from 41 countries took the test last fall. Fourth graders from 26 countries also took the test, but those state-level data have not yet been released. Singapore, Korea, and Japan turned in the top performances. ("U.S. Students About Average in Global Study," Nov. 27, 1997.)

Illinois 8th graders averaged 488 points on a 1,000-point scale on the math test—putting them in the middle of the pack—but 25 points below the international average. U.S. students averaged 500 points on the test.

On the science portion of the test, Illinois students averaged 514 points, two points below the international average. Students in the American sample scored higher than the international average, although they remained in the middle of the pack with 534 points.

'Not in My School'

The Illinois study also includes results of teacher and student surveys and curriculum analyses.

Despite their middling performance, Illinois students, as well as those nationwide, believe that they do well in mathematics, the survey results show. Like their counterparts nationally, Illinois teachers say they have knowledge of national, state, and local standards, though it appears they are not applied in the classroom.

"So many times when you tell people that we have [academic] challenges, they say, 'Not in my school' or 'Not in my state,' " Mr. Wyllie said. "Now, we have proof from a very credible study that they are wrong."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education announced the availability of timss resource kits, designed to help apply the test's findings to the improvement of math and science education.

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