IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

New Data From the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

How do U.S. students compare to their international peers? A look at the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study at 4th and 8th-grade

By Lydia Malley

In today’s interconnected world, it is important to understand the skills of students in the U.S. relative to their international peers. To this end, NCES participates in a number of international assessments. Results from one of these assessments, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), were released on November 29th. Our new report, Highlights from TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced 2015, compares the mathematics and science performance of U.S. fourth- and eighth-grade to that of their peers in over 60 countries or education systems across 6 continents. This report also presents results from TIMSS Advanced, which assessed the advanced mathematics and physics knowledge and skills of twelfth-graders in 9 countries. The results from TIMSS Advanced are discussed more in depth in a forthcoming blog post.


TIMSS results show that the mathematic scores of U.S. fourth- and eighth-grade students have improved over time, while science scores have held relatively steady. TIMSS is designed to measure trends in mathematics and science achievement. Conducted every 4 years, TIMSS 2015 represents the sixth such study since TIMSS was first conducted in 1995.

Among the report’s key findings:

Fourth-grade mathematics:

  • Fourth-grade mathematics performance in the United States has improved since 1995.
  • Among 54 education systems that participated in the most recent TIMSS, average scores in 10 systems were higher than the U.S. average, 9 education systems were not measurably different from the U.S. average, and average scores in 34 systems were lower than the U.S. average.

Eighth-grade mathematics:

  • The eighth-grade average mathematics score of the United States in 2015 was higher than in any prior administration of TIMSS, since the first administration in 1995.
  • Among 43 education systems, average scores in 8 systems were higher than the U.S. average, 10 education systems were not measurably different from the U.S. average, and average scores in 24 systems were lower than the U.S. average.

Fourth-grade science:

  • Fourth-grade science performance in the United States in 2015 was not measurably different from the performance in 1995 or 2011.
  • Among 53 education systems that participated in the 2015 TIMSS, average scores in 7 systems were higher than the U.S. average, 7 education systems were not measurably different from the U.S. average, and average scores in 38 systems were lower than the U.S. average.

Eighth-grade science: U.S. eighth-graders’ average science score increased between 1995 and 2015, although the scores in the most recent years (2011 and 2015) were not measurably different.

  • Among 43 education systems, in 2015 average scores in 7 systems were higher than the U.S. average, in 9 education systems the average scores were not measurably different from the U.S. average, and average scores in 26 systems were lower than the U.S. average.

Results by Gender:

  • Males scored 7 points higher than females in fourth-grade mathematics, and eighth-grade mathematics scores for males and females were not measurably different.
  • Males scored four points higher than females in fourth-grade science and five points higher in eighth-grade science.

TIMSS is designed to align broadly with mathematics and science curricula in the participating education systems and, therefore, to reflect students’ school-based learning. TIMSS also collects information about educational contexts (such as students’ schools and teachers) that may be related to students’ achievement.

The full report is available at In addition, TIMSS results are now easier than ever to access, with more than 60 tables and figures, reports, detailed descriptions of the assessments, technical notes and more available on the TIMSS 2015 website, at

TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced are sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and managed in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the U.S. Department of Education.

A National Picture of Career and Technical Education

By Lisa Hudson, National Center for Education Statistics

Happy National CTE Month! This month celebrates career and technical education (CTE), which is a significant component of the American educational system. 

Overall, 13 percent of the credits that public high school graduates earn are in CTE. Almost all public high school graduates (94 percent) earn at least some credits in CTE, with 36 percent of graduates earning at least 3 credits in CTE occupational fields, such as agriculture, business, and consumer services.  At the postsecondary level, where CTE is defined as subbaccalaureate occupational education, 39 percent of all credential awards are in CTE (see chart below).

These statistics are drawn from the CTE Statistics program at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which provides national-level information on CTE at the secondary and postsecondary education levels, as well as information on occupational certification and licensure. This information  is designed to help the U.S. Department of Education and Congress evaluate the status of CTE as part of its deliberations on federal CTE legislation (currently, the 2006 Carl D. Perkins Act). This information also supports state and local CTE administrators and researchers in their efforts to develop, evaluate, and encourage effective CTE policies and programs.

Statistics, reports and summarized findings about CTE are available on the newly redesigned CTE Statistics website (see screenshot above). Here, you can find information organized into three categories—secondary education, postsecondary education, adults in general—and sorted by topic, including CTE delivery system and offerings; student participation; and student persistence, attainment, and labor market outcomes.  NCES updates the website as new data become available and new reports are produced. In the next two years, we plan to add updated information on participation in CTE by both high school and postsecondary students, as well as data on the foundational skills of adults and their participation in work-experience programs. 

Collecting CTE Statistics  

Statistics on CTE come from federally sponsored national data collections, primarily NCES data collected from schools, teachers, students, and individuals in households.  These data collections are not specifically focused on CTE. Rather, they are general purpose education or demographic surveys from which information on CTE is extracted.  The CTE Statistics website includes a list of these data sources, with links to each data source’s website, where information is provided on how to access the data.

Since CTE is embedded in the larger framework of education, it makes sense that the data collection system for CTE should, itself, be embedded in general education surveys. Using this structure we can learn more about CTE in relation to general education programs. For instance, we can compare postsecondary students who major in CTE fields with those who major in academic fields (CTE students tend to be older) and determine the proportion of the typical high school students’ curriculum that is devoted to CTE (13 percent, as noted above). We can also evaluate how high school students’ participation in CTE relates to their participation in other subject areas, their academic achievement, and their experiences after high school (it’s complicated).
Stay Informed

Visit the CTE Statistics website often to see what’s new. You can also sign up for automatic email updates using The IES newsflash (Under National Center for Education Statistics, select “Adult and career information.”) If you have thoughts, questions, or ideas, send us an email.


A Growing Body of Research on Growth Mindset

Growth mindset is the belief that we can grow our intelligence by working hard at it and the idea has attracted a lot of interest in the education world in recent years. There have been best-selling books and many magazine and newspaper articles written about the power of a growth mindset.

In a recent national survey*, nearly all (98 percent) of 600 K-12 teachers said they think that a growth mindset improves their own teaching and helps their students learn. However, only 20% reported confidence in actually being able to help their students develop a growth mindset. This disparity highlights a need for additional research and development of growth-mindset based interventions, as well as research to understand how to best optimize implementation and outcomes.

For more than a decade, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has supported research on growth mindset. This includes a set of basic research studies to test a theory about growth mindset, an R&D project to build a technology-based growth mindset intervention, and an efficacy study to evaluate the impact of that intervention.

With a 2002 award from the IES Cognition and Student Learning Program (as well as grants from private foundations), researchers at Columbia and Stanford Universities conducted basic research to test and grow the growth mindset theory. This research provided a foundation for future R&D to develop school-based interventions focusing on applying growth mindset to student learning.

With a 2010 award from the ED/IES SBIR program, small business firm Mindset Works developed a web-based intervention to support teachers and grade 5 to 9 students in applying a growth mindset to teaching and learning. The Brainology intervention (pictured below) includes 20 animated interactive lessons and classroom activities for students on how the brain works and how it can become smarter and stronger through practice and learning. The intervention also teaches students specific neuroscience-based strategies to enhance attention, engagement, learning, and memory, and to manage negative emotions.

Brainology includes support materials for teachers to help them integrate the program and growth mindset concepts more generally into their daily activities at school. It is currently being used in hundreds of schools around the country.

And through a 2015 award from the Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning Program, researchers are now studying the efficacy of Brainology to improve students’ growth mindset and academic learning. In this four-year study, sixth- and seventh-grade science teachers are randomly assigned to either implement the program along with their school’s regular science curriculum or  continue with the regular science curriculum alone. Impacts of the growth mindset program on student mindsets and achievement (grades and test scores) are being measured in the early spring of the implementation year and in the fall of the following school year.
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or stay tuned to this blog, for more information about these and other research projects related to growth mindset.

Written by Emily Doolittle, NCER’s team lead for Social and Behavioral Research, and Ed Metz, ED/IES SBIR Program Manager

* - The survey indicates that growth mindset is of high interest to the general public and the education community. However, the Institute of Education Sciences was not involved in this survey and has not reviewed the methodology or results. 

Recommendations for Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Steve Graham was the head of a panel of experts that assisted the What Works Clearinghouse in developing recommendations for its practice guide on effective writing for secondary students. We invited Dr. Graham to author this blog about the guide and a January 18 webinar on its recommendations. 

By Steve Graham, Warner Professor in the Division of Leadership and Innovation, Arizona State University

Effective writing is a vital component of students’ literacy achievement and a life-long skill that plays a key role in postsecondary success. For more than 30 years, I’ve focused my research on how teachers can help students become strong writers, how writing develops, and how writing can be used to support reading and learning. Much progress has been made in the field of writing instruction, and summarizing and sharing these findings will help teachers implement evidence-based practices. Using effective instructional practices will help ensure our students become adept at using writing to support and extend learning, argue effectively and fairly, connect and communicate with others, tell captivating stories, and explore who they are as well as reflect on their experiences. 

Recently, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) released a new practice guide to address the challenges of teaching writing to secondary students. Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively offers three evidence-based recommendations for helping students in grades 6–12 develop effective writing skills. The first recommendation focuses on teaching students to use writing strategies to plan, think critically, and effectively convey their ideas. The second recommendation suggests integrating reading and writing to emphasize key features of text. Finally, the third recommendation describes how to use a formative assessment cycle to inform writing instruction.

The guide includes practical instructional tips and strategies for each recommendation that teachers can use to help students improve their writing. You’ll find over 30 examples to use in the classroom, including sample writing strategies and prompts and activities that incorporate writing and reading.

I’d like to invite teachers, administrators, and others to join me for a webinar on the recommendations in this practice guide, Wednesday, January 18, at 3 p.m. (ET). During the webinar, we will discuss the guide’s three recommendations and give teachers in all disciplines usable guidance on how to implement them in the classroom. We will also discuss potential challenges educators may face when implementing the recommended practices and provide advice on how to overcome those challenges.

Developing the Practice Guide

The WWC develops practice guides with the support of an expert panel. The panelists combine their expertise with the findings of rigorous research to produce specific recommendations. I was honored to chair this panel, which also included Jill Fitzgerald, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and MetaMetrics; Linda D. Friedrich, from the National Writing Project; Katie Greene, from Forsyth County (Ga.) Schools; James S. Kim, from Harvard University; and Carol Booth Olson, from the University of California, Irvine. 

For this practice guide, WWC staff conducted a systematic review of the research—a thorough literature search identified more than 3,700 relevant studies. After screening each study, 55 studies were found to use eligible research designs and examine the effec­tiveness of the practices found in this guide’s recommendations. The recommendations are based on the 15 studies that meet the WWC’s rigorous standards. For each of the recommendations, the WWC and the panel rate the strength of the evidence that supports it.  Appendix D in the guide presents a thorough summary of the evidence supporting each recommendation. 

Education and Training Opportunities in America’s Prisons

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, Institute of Education Sciences

The latest results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) reinforce some of what we know about the connection between education and incarceration—adults in prison, on average, have less formal education and lower literacy and numeracy skills than adults living in U.S. households.  But what about the education and training adults receive while in prison?

A recent publication—Highlights from the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults—provides information about the education and training that is received inside prison walls, in addition to providing data on the skills of incarcerated adults. This information is important because more than half of the prisoners surveyed (54 percent) were scheduled to be released within two years of their participating in PIAAC and most will likely try to enter the work force.

A look at PIAAC

The PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults was conducted in 2014 and involved a representative sample of 1,300 prisoners who took assessments in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Most of them also completed a questionnaire that asked about their demographics and educational attainment, among other things. The results were compared to non-incarcerated adults in U.S. households who took the same assessments and completed a similar questionnaire as part of the national PIAAC program.  

The results show that 30 percent of incarcerated adults had attained less than a high school diploma—twice the percentage for U.S. households (14 percent). And more incarcerated adults scored at the lowest levels in both the literacy and numeracy assessments (see chart).

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, U.S. National Supplement: Prison Study 2014, PIAAC 2012/14

Education and Training in Prison

The survey results show that at least some of the prisoners had opportunities to work, take academic classes, and receive job training and certification during their current incarceration. About 61 percent of those surveyed reported having a job in prison. But many prisoners reported that their jobs “never” needed them to use the type of literacy and numeracy skills which are important in the work force.

For instance, nearly half (47 percent) of incarcerated adults with jobs reported “never” reading directions or instructions as part of their current prison job, and 82 percent reported “never” working with fractions, decimals, or percentages. By comparison, in the household population surveyed as part of PIAAC, approximately 12 percent of adults reported “never” reading directions or instructions as part of their current job, and 34 percent reported “never” working with fractions, decimals, or percentages.

In terms of education, 70 percent of prisoners who were not currently taking an academic class or program said they wanted to participate in one. Among those prisoners, the programs they most wanted to participate in were to earn a certificate from a college or trade school (29 percent), a high school diploma/GED (18 percent), an Associate’s degree (18 percent), a Bachelor’s degree (14 percent), and a pre-associate education (13 percent).

However, despite the high interest in academic programs, most prisoners surveyed (58 percent) had not furthered their education during their current incarceration (see chart).

# Rounds to zero.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, U.S. National Supplement: Prison Study 2014, PIAAC 2012/14

Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of prisoners surveyed said they had participated in some type of job training during their current incarceration and another 14 percent were on a waiting list for such training. Among those who participating in job training, 63 percent said self-improvement was an important reason for participating and 43 percent said it was to improve their post-incarceration job opportunities (respondents could choose more than one answer).

Of those who had not participated in training and were not on the wait list, 30 percent said they were not eligible to attend, 19 percent said they were not interested in the programs offered, and 11 percent said they did not have the necessary qualifications.

The results of the 2014 PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults provide a tremendous amount of information that can inform the work of researchers, policymakers, and others who are interested in the skills, education, and training of America’s prison population. Anyone interested in exploring these data can do so online through the International Data Explorer (IDE) at For more information on PIAAC, please go to