TIMSS and PIRLS Results

Back to January 2013 Ed Reporter

TIMSS and PIRLS Results

The Boston College (BC) Lynch School of Education has released results of reading, math, and science achievement tests of 4th- and 8th-grade students in America, compared to those of other countries. BC is the home of the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center in association with the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. TIMSS stands for Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and PIRLS stands for Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.

More than 20,000 students in more than 1,000 U.S. schools took either the TIMSS or PIRLS assessment in the spring of 2011. Worldwide, more than 60 countries and 500,000 students took the assessments. TIMSS has been given every four years since 1995 to 4th- and 8th-grade students. PIRLS has been given every five years since 2001 to 4th-graders.

Results released in December 2012 show that U.S. 4th-graders are holding their own in reading literary texts and informational passages compared to students in other countries.

U.S. mathematics and science results, however, are disappointing. Although American students remain among the top dozen counties tested in the TIMSS, a closer look at the statistics paints a dismal picture of mathematics and science education in America.


The literacy study, PIRLS, is administered at grade four. The best reading results were achieved by Hong Kong, the Russian Federation, Finland, and Singapore. Those countries were followed by Northern Ireland, the United States, Denmark, Croatia, and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan).

The U.S. is one of ten nations that improved its reading achievement levels from 2001 to 2011.

Singapore has the highest number of students at or above the Advanced international benchmark at 24%, with 62% achieving the High international benchmark. The figure for the U.S. Advanced level is 17% and High is 56%.


South Korea, Singapore, Finland, Japan, the Russian Federation, and Taiwan all scored above U.S. 4th-grade students in Science on the 2011 TIMSS. Top-performing Korea scored 587 and American students scored 544. American students showed no measurable progress between the 1995, 2007, and 2011 tests. Singapore students scored 33% Advanced and 68% High, compared to America’s 15% Advanced and 49% High.

In 8th-grade science, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Slovenia, the Russian Federation, Hong Kong, and England all ranked higher than the United States. Singapore achieved 590 and the next international result was Taiwan at 564, a significant drop. The U.S. score was 525, eight points behind its next-best contender, England. American students made no measurable gains between the 2007 and 2011 tests.

In the Advanced science performance rank, ten nations ranked higher than U.S. 8th-grade students. In Singapore, 40% of students are Advanced and 69% are High or better, while in the U.S. results, just 10% of 8th-graders scored Advanced and 40% scored High or better.


In mathematics, 4th-graders in America ranked behind Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Northern Ireland, Flemish Belgium, Finland, England, and the Russian Federation. Since the last test in 2007, American scores rose by 12 points. Singapore, the top achiever, scored 606, and the U.S.A. scored 542.

43% of Singapore’s 4th-grade test-takers scored at or above the Advanced international level in math, while only 13% of U.S. students achieved that distinction. 78% of Singapore’s 4th-grade test-takers scored at or above the High international level, compared to only 47% of U.S. participants.

For 8th-grade math, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, the Russian Federation, Israel, and Finland all scored better than American students. The top three countries scored 613, 611, and 609 respectively, while the U.S. scored 509, at least a hundred points below the leaders.

While the top three countries’ results show 49%, 48%, and 47% of 8th-grade students scored at or above the Advanced international benchmark, only 7% of American students were Advanced. 30% of U.S. students scored High, 68% were Intermediate and 92% achieved at least the low level. The percentage scores are cumulative, so Advanced, High and Intermediate scorers are all included in the Low score. Unfortunately, if you are an American 8th-grader, you may not be able to grasp that concept.