Algebra Classes Lead Montgomery County Eighth Graders to High Score in Rigorous International Study of Mathematics

April 4, 2001
Eighth grade students in the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) outperformed all but seven countries in the world in mathematics and 14 countries in science on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study Repeat (TIMSS-R), a rigorous examination administered in 1999 in 38 countries, 13 individual states, and 14 school districts nationally. The achievement in mathematics is directly related to the teaching and learning of algebra and other higher level math in middle school.

Montgomery County eighth graders who were enrolled in algebra achieved an average TIMSS-R score that would place them between the average score for the first place country (Singapore) and the second place country (Korea). For county students enrolled in geometry, their average score in math placed them near the 75th percentile of students in top-scoring Singapore. By comparison, county students enrolled in regular eighth grade math scored below the average for the United States.

The county produced the third highest mathematics score in the United States and the nation's twelfth highest score in science, and the highest overall score for large and diverse school districts. The county's achievement was significantly above the international averages in both math and science and far above the scores for both Maryland and the United States in each subject.

The top scores for a large portion of Montgomery County students in both subjects exceeded or matched the average scores for the highest performing nations. In mathematics, 27 percent of county students scored at or above the average scores for the top-performing countries of Singapore, Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, and Japan. In science, 40 percent of county students scored at or above the averages for the top-performing countries of Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Hungary, Japan, and Republic of Korea.

"The results of this examination of eighth grade students reflect a significant educational accomplishment by our middle schools in providing their students with a challenging instructional program in math and science," said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education. "As we continue to refine and improve the curriculum of our school system, especially in math and science, these results serve as a vivid reminder that the standards being established in Montgomery County are exceedingly rigorous and internationally competitive."

For example, the continuing effort to enroll more Montgomery County students in algebra and geometry in middle school (41 percent of eighth graders in 1999-2000) is consistent with the highest of international benchmarks.

On the assessment's international scale of 65 participating nations, states, and school districts, Montgomery County scored in 10th place in math and 26th in science, compared to the United States at the 35th place in both math and science and Maryland at the 40th place in math and 41st place in science.

The county was the only district from Maryland and the Washington area to participate in the study as a separate testing group. The large random sample, conducted by Westat, Inc., for the TIMSS-R study, provides a valid representation of eighth graders in Montgomery County. (A random sampling of students from across Maryland participated as part of a separate sample for the state.)

The study took place in 1999 as a follow-up to the landmark analysis in 1995 conducted by the International Study Center at Boston College in collaboration with the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. The study is the largest of such assessment of student academic performance across national and international boundaries.

The results disaggregated by race and ethnicity provide a similar performance gap seen in other assessments, although Montgomery County students outperformed students nationally from the same race and ethnic groups. The performance gap by race and ethnicity in the county was consistent with the performance gaps reported for Maryland and the nation.

Data from the study will be used to strengthen the school system's academic program. Last fall, the school system began a review of the mathematics and science curriculum, following the receipt of an audit of the mathematics program, and efforts are under way to realign course materials to provide more challenging curricula to students, especially at the middle school level.

NOTE: The full international study is available online at the link below and the Montgomery County report (along with the TIMSS-R Highlights booklet) is attached as a PDF file at the link below.

Additional online information about the international study is available from the Mid-Atlantic Eisenhower Consortium at

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