Global Study Identifies Promising Practices in Top-Scoring Nations

By Catherine Gewertz — October 08, 2013 2 min read
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A new study uses the results of international tests to provide a profile of the practices that schools, parents, and teachers in the highest-scoring countries have in common.

The TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College released the study last week, which is focused on global data in mathematics, reading, and science. It analyzes the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, which assesses math and science achievement, and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, or PIRLS. The assessments are typically administered in different years, but in 2011, both TIMSS and PIRLS were given. That made it possible for researchers to examine what they called a “culture of educational excellence” in all three subjects at the 4th grade level.

The study drew on data from 34 participating countries, but focused on about half of those, where 90 percent of the 4th graders reached a “basic” level of proficiency in all three subjects. The researchers zeroed in on five education systems that educate 35 percent of their 4th graders to a high level of achievement in all three subjects: Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Finland, Hong Kong, and Russia.

Good Reading Skills

Ina V.S. Mullis and Michael O. Martin, the executive directors of the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, said in a statement that while each country had its own unique strengths and approaches to education, “the analyses presented in this report suggest that, across countries, there are a number of school and home factors that can positively affect student achievement in reading, mathematics, and science at the 4th grade.”

One key finding concerned the pivotal role of good reading skills. Not only do strong skills drive high achievement in literacy, but they facilitate high achievement in math and science, too, where students often must read complex material to solve problems.

Lots of Books

The study identified a set of school conditions that correlate with higher student achievement in reading, math, and science. They include stipulations that:

• All parties—principals, teachers, parents, and students—are “equally invested” in working together to achieve success;

• Teachers understand curricular goals;

• Teachers are successful at implementing curriculum;

• Teachers expect student achievement;

• Parents support student achievement;

• Students want to do well in school; and

• The school provides a safe and orderly environment by maintaining discipline and reducing the frequency of bullying.

When it comes to teacher practices, some of the common themes that were associated with high achievement that surfaced were that educators make sure students know what they’re expected to do, they make sure students like what they’re reading, and they try to be easily understood. In addition, they present content in interesting ways and give students interesting things to do and read.

Among the parent practices the researchers found to correlate with higher student achievement were creating a home environment that is supportive of educational attainment—with a lot of books available—as well as engaging with children in reading books, telling stories, singing songs, playing with alphabet toys, reading signs and labels aloud, and playing word games.


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