Chance Favors the Prepared Mind: Mathematics and Science Indicators for Comparing States and Nations

Gary W. Phillips
American Institutes for Research
November 2007

The American Institutes for Research recently released an important paper by Gary Phillips that links the scoring scales of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). This imaginative analysis allowed him to compare the achievement levels of American students, state by state, with their counterparts in other countries (albeit only in math and science). He found that eighth graders in places like Singapore, Korea, the Netherlands, and Japan reached the equivalent of NAEP "proficiency" at much higher rates than Americans, while in Italy, England, and several Eastern European countries (among other places) they lagged behind. At the state level, Phillips found, while perennial high-performers like Massachusetts eclipse a number of countries that outperform the U.S. overall, no American state matches the performance of the top five or six countries. The worst, like Alabama, sit about 20 spots down the list. These are fairly discouraging numbers. Still, such comparisons should mute critics who complain that NAEP standards are too tough. True, no country has 100 percent of its kids achieving at the NAEP "proficient" level--but plenty of nations have a lot more kids at or above that level than we do. Download the report here.

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