Eighth-graders in Chicago, Colorado score near top in math, science

Wednesday, April 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Eighth-graders in suburban Chicago and Colorado Springs, Colo., scored among the best in the world in a test of math and science knowledge. On the whole, though, students in the United States scored just above average, lagging behind 16 other countries.

Results of the tests were to be released Wednesday. All 50 states did not participate, so broad comparisons between them cannot be made. Also, the United States' results are only representative of the participating states and not students throughout the country.

This is the first time states and school districts have been allowed to compare their students to those in other nations.

The tests were given voluntarily in 1999 in 38 countries, 13 states and 14 school districts or groups. The eighth-graders who took the test were selected randomly.

School District No. 203 in Naperville, Ill., west of Chicago, edged out all other competitors in science and came in sixth worldwide in math. The average math scores of Naperville students were just behind those of students in five Asian nations.

Jodi Wirt, who oversees secondary school curriculum and instruction in Naperville, said early exposure to hands-on science lessons gives their students an edge.

``They're aware of the scientific process and they're constantly asked to explain their reasoning,'' she said. ``That whole way of teaching students begins very early in our district.''

Wirt also said the district is unusual in requiring most of its students to take algebra by eighth grade. It's also located near five colleges and several research facilities.

The Academy School District No. 20 in Colorado Springs, Colo., scored near the top in science and well above the world average in math.

Alisabeth Hohn, the district's assessment director, said it helps to have the U.S. Air Force Academy located within the school district.

``A lot of our students have opportunities to participate in activities that promote science and math achievement,'' she said. Several high-tech companies are also nearby, and most students have computers in their homes, Hohn said.

The study, which tested 50,000 students in all, is a project of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, an independent international cooperative of national research institutions and government agencies. It was created in 1959 and has conducted more than 15 such studies.

Among nations who volunteered their students, five Asian nations _ Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan _ scored above all other nations in math, while Taiwan, Singapore, Hungary, Japan and South Korea were the top nations in science, scoring just below the Naperville district but comparably to other high-scoring districts in the United States.

As a whole, the United States performed just above average in math and science, scoring just below Bulgaria and Latvia in math and just above New Zealand and Latvia in science.

Researchers said teachers with a university degree in math or science help raise student achievement, but that in the United States students were more likely than others to be taught by teachers with degrees in education or ``other.''

The report also suggested that students score higher in math when teachers emphasize reasoning and problem solving; they score higher in science, the report said, when teachers emphasize experiments and practical investigations.

In the most recent set of complete national scores, American students quizzed in math and science in 1999 improved their performance but still lagged behind students in nearly half the other countries that participated.

The results showed that U.S. eighth-graders in 1999 tested better than eighth-graders four years earlier, but appeared to decline in comparison to foreign students as they moved through the school system. Fourth-graders from 1995 scored above the average of other nations tested, but eighth-graders in 1999 scored below that average.