A congratulatory visit last week from President Clinton left officials in a group of Illinois school districts feeling on top of the world--and test scores proved their giddiness was well founded.
Based on their performance on international math and science tests, the 20 districts in affluent Chicago suburbs outdid most of the competition--not only the United States as a whole but other countries as well.
The districts’ 8th graders tied for first place in science when they were ranked alongside students from 41 countries taking part in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. And the Illinois students tied for second place in mathematics--along with Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong--behind only Singapore.
When the nation-by-nation results were released last November, U.S. students ranked just above the 41-country average in science and just below it in math. Singapore, Korea, Japan, the Czech Republic, and Hungary all scored higher than American students in both math and science, according to the Department of Education.
Last week, in remarks to 4,500 community members inside the field house at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Ill., Mr. Clinton said that the group exemplified the mission of the federal Goals 2000 program. He urged other districts to hold themselves to high standards.
“There is no better model for what we were trying to do in the entire United States of America than what you have done here,” Mr. Clinton said. “And you should be very proud of yourselves.”
Focusing on Standards
Significantly, officials said half of the 8th graders in the Illinois schools that got together to see where they would score on the test are enrolled in either algebra or geometry. Nationally, only 19 percent of U.S. 8th graders take algebra. Illinois officials attributed much of their success on TIMSS to that fact.
But the districts are not going to rest on their laurels, said Paul Kimmelman, the group’s coordinator and the superintendent of West Northfield School District No. 31 in Northbrook. “We have to recognize even though we did do well, our commitment is going to be that every student can achieve at a world-class level.”
The districts banded together more than two years ago to live up to the national goal that U.S. students rank first in the world in math and science by 2000. (“Ill. Districts Come Together in Quest of Math-Science Goal,” Jan. 15, 1997.)
Last year, the group became the first and only cluster of districts in the country to take the TIMSS test. In the 20 districts, 3,000 students took the math and science tests.
White House aides said the spotlight on education was symbolic.
“It was deliberate and very significant that the first trip right after the inauguration was on education in general and standards in particular,” said Michael Cohen, a special assistant to the president. Those topics will be a “central theme” of Mr. Clinton’s term.
The Education Department and the National Science Foundation plan to help six school districts, groups of districts, or states take the TIMSS tests. Next year, they hope to see 50 more.
The tests cost $50,000 for each grade-level sample of students.