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After 20-Year Hiatus, U.S. to Rejoin International Math and Science Test

American seniors will once again test their advanced mathematics and physics prowess against that of students in other countries next spring, as the United States rejoins the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study's advanced program for the first time in 20 years.

TIMSS Advanced is intended to gauge advanced math and science concepts critical for students planning to go on to science, engineering, technology, and math careers. U.S. students performed well below the international average of 41 countries on the 1995 math and science tests—8th graders were actually stronger in both subjects than their 12th grade peers—and the United States skipped the last round of advanced testing in 2008.

"Because of the current strong policy interest in preparedness for college and for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, the U.S. plans to participate in TIMSS Advanced in 2015," the Education Department states in a Federal Register notice on the move.

The United States has continued to take part in the standard TIMSS for 4th and 8th grades, and last year used a linking study to benchmark students' performance on the domestic National Assessment of Educational Progress to international math and science performance.

The advanced TIMSS covers standard high school fare like algebra, calculus, geometry, temperature, electricity and magnetism, but also advanced mechanics and atomic and nuclear physics. Back in 1995, then-TIMSS project director William Schmidt told Education Week that the test items were designed to be challenging—"'equally unfair' to all students."

The example problems released for the upcoming 2015 TIMSS Advanced require students to apply their understanding to safety situations, applied force, and other problems:

atomic.JPGWaves.JPG

kangaroo.JPGThe International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, which supervises the TIMSS, notes, "All countries need to educate students who can teach and pursue careers in a host of crucial medical, social, and industrial fields requiring specialized mathematics or physics knowledge. Across countries, however, programs in advanced mathematics and physics vary widely in terms of the proportion of the age cohort of students enrolled in them, in the depth and sophistication of the subject matter content included, and in their pedagogical and administrative contexts."

The TIMSS Advanced is expected to be administered from March through May, 2015.

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