American schools fall behind Asian powerhouses in science and math

29th November 2016 at 23:00
TIMSS, maths, science, schools, teachers,
International school league tables show American schools have struggled to improve their standings as Singapore takes top spot

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES USA on Twitter and like TES USA on Facebook.

American schools students have dropped further behind their Asian peers in math and science over the past four years, according to international league tables published today.

There were some improvements in performance among eighth graders, but no progress among fourth graders, according to the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS). But both age groups dropped lower down the rankings compared with other school systems around the world.

More than 580,000 students in 57 countries took part in the study, which tests both ten-year-olds and 14-year-olds in maths and science.

Singapore topped all four of the rankings' tables. The same five East Asian systems were all in the top six places for science.

Math scores improved for American eighth-graders since the last TIMSS assessment in 2011; fourth-grade scores did not change.

Eighth-grade science scores were higher in 2015 compared to 2011, while average U.S. fourth-grade science scores were not measurably different.

Peggy G Carr, acting commissioner of National Center for Education Statistics, said that despite the dominance of Asian countries, American students were improving.

"Fourth- and eighth-grade students in a handful of education systems—almost all in Asia—continue to score higher, on average, than students in the United States," she said.

"[But] US students in fourth and eighth grade have made considerable progress in mathematics since the mid-1990s, mirroring long-term improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, our nation's report card."

Matt Larson, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, told the Washington Post that the long-term trend of improvement in the subject was pleasing heartening and more important than the changes in just the last four years.

“Certainly we have much more work to do and achievement is not as high as we would like to have it,” Larson said. “But the trajectory is positive, and it may indicate that some of the efforts we’ve made over the past two and a half decades are making a difference.”

David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, added that new science standards being adopted by schools could drive significant improvements in coming years.

The top 15 countries for each subject and age range can be seen below:

Timss maths rankings

maths scores for 10 year olds 2011 and 2015

maths 14 year olds

Timss science rankings

science 10-year-olds


science 14-year-olds



Related Content

Get Tes online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to Tes online and the Tes app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off Tes Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the Tes online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order today