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Published in Print: June 24, 1998, as Mo., Ore. 8th Graders Have Strong Showing on International Exam

Mo., Ore. 8th Graders Have Strong Showing on International Exam

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Two American states have learned that their 8th graders can academically hold their own against their peers around the world.

In special testing conducted last year, students from Missouri and Oregon bested the performance of U.S. 8th graders in 1995 on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study tests. Presenters at the Council of Chief State School Officers' annual conference on large-scale assessment discussed the results here last week for the first time in a national venue.

In addition to outscoring the United States as a whole, Missouri and Oregon students performed above the international average in both mathematics and science, according to Pascal D. Forgione Jr., the U.S. Department of Education's commissioner of education statistics.

"It's good news for both of them," Mr. Forgione said of the two states.

Comparison Opportunity

By having the same students take the rigorous TIMSS exam and a new state assessment in math, Missouri gained even more information from the testing.

Now, it's the only state in the nation to be able to tell how its own statewide test compares with the global math exam as an international benchmark. The verdict: The Show-Me State has a tough test.

Missouri and Oregon became only the fourth and fifth states--after Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota--to give TIMSS exams to students as if the states were nations that had taken part in the global study. Missouri and Oregon took the Education Department up on its offer of a chance to give the exams last year.

Overall, Oregon came out a bit ahead of Missouri. When ranked among the 41 countries participating in TIMSS at the 8th grade level, Oregon fell behind only Singapore on the science exam. In math, eight countries scored significantly higher than Oregon.

Norma Paulus

"Oregon's school improvement act calls for us to have the best-educated citizens in the nation and the world," Norma Paulus, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a prepared statement. "These results show that we're well along the road to reaching that goal."

A total of 2,200 randomly-selected, representative students in 58 Oregon schools took the tests.

'Doing OK?'

In Missouri, 8th graders also did well in science, again with just Singapore doing statistically better. They fared somewhat worse than the Oregonians in math, with 18 countries coming out ahead of them. As a whole, American 8th graders had seen nine nations score higher in science and 20 nations do better in math.

A representative sample of 2,102 8th graders from 54 districts took both the new Missouri Assessment Program and the TIMSS exams.

With its students taking the state test and the international exams, Missouri learned it is holding its students to tough performance standards on its home-grown assessment.

For instance, to be called "advanced," Missouri students must score at least 43 points higher on the state assessment than do the top 10 percent of world performers on TIMSS. Likewise, the point at which a Missouri student is called "proficient" is 22 points higher than the cut-off score to rank in the top quarter of TIMSS test-takers.

The results are "excellent news," said James Friedebach, the director of assessment for the Missouri education department. The close statistical link established between the Missouri state test and TIMSS "gave us a real opportunity to see how we're really doing."

"It's going to give districts an idea how they did against an international benchmark," Mr. Friedebach said. "It's a way to help them answer the question, 'Are we doing OK?'

"I think we've taken a very substantial step," he said, "in connecting large-scale assessment with classroom instruction."

Vol. 17, Issue 41, Page 11

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