WASHINGTON – Maryland eighth-grade students had the lowest science test scores and the second-to-lowest scores in math among students in 13 states that participated in a far-ranging study of those skills in 1999.
But Maryland scores were in the middle of the overall survey, which measured science and math achievement in eighth graders in 13 states, 38 countries and 14 local school districts.
Maryland was just ahead of New Zealand and Latvia in math and science, respectively, and just behind England and Texas, according to a far-ranging survey released Wednesday by the International Study Center at Boston College.
“We obviously have work to do . . . we don’t like to be average,” said Neil Greenberger, a Maryland Education Department spokesman. “But I think we participated (in this study) not to get a ranking, but to see how we were doing.”
School systems had to pay to be included in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study Benchmarking Study. Officials could not say Wednesday how much the fee was.
Officials in Montgomery County, the only Maryland county to participate in the study, were pleased with their students’ performance.
County eighth-graders ranked third among the 14 school districts in math scores and 10th among all groups studied, just behind the Netherlands and ahead of the Slovak Republic. Their science performance was slightly worse, finishing eighth among school districts and 26th overall.
Montgomery school officials attribute their relatively high math scores to a county push to teach higher-level math — such as algebra — in eighth grade, rather than waiting until ninth grade to teach it.
“This has been a focus of the school district since 1991,” said John Larson, the coordinator for applied research, and the county’s liaison with the study’s coordinators.
The county’s focus on annually testing students in the lower grades is another reason that Montgomery County students may have done well, Larson said.
While the county’s report overall was good, Larson said the report showed a large gap in scores between poor schools in richer neighborhoods. He said the county is working to address this disparity.
That same disparity could be seen in the U.S. scores, said Ina V.S. Mullis, the study’s co-director. While the country’s overall score was about average, states and school districts within the United States “had performance as high as Singapore and Taipei (China) and some as low as some of the poorest- performing countries.”
The United States ranked 19th in math scores and 18th in science scores out of the 38 countries that participated in the study. Out of a possible 1,000 points, it got scores of 502 in math and 515 in science. The international average was 487 in math and 488 in science.
Maryland scored 495 in math and 506 in science. Montgomery County students posted scores of 537 in math and 531 in science.
Singapore received the highest math score, at 604, and Naperville School District No. 203 in Illinois had the highest science score overall, at 584. South Africa recorded the worst scores in both math and science, with 275 and 243, respectively.