Hit the Books

Young West Virginians without good mathematics skills will find themselves handicapped in the job market, which increasingly is an international one. To judge by a test given to eighth graders in dozens of countries, that should concern Mountain State residents.

Few statistical instruments exist to compare the achievements of West Virginia students to those in other states. Only the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests have done so for several years. They show that in many subject areas, children in our state’s schools do not perform up to the levels of those in many other states.

But now, NAEP scores are being used to compare student achievement in many countries, through the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

Researchers found that in 2011, West Virginia eighth graders who took the NAEP test had an average score of 492-below the international average of 500. Just four other states and the District of Columbia posted lower averages.

The news was not much better in science. Again using 2011 NAEP scores for eighth graders, the TIMSS found West Virginia students doing better than many of their peers abroad, with an average score of 520. The international average was 500.

But in science, West Virginia eighth grade NAEP test-takers scored below their peers in 40 states.

As with most reports based on statistics, the TIMSS results need to be taken with more than a few grains of salt. West Virginia researchers may want to look at several aspects of the study, including how the 500 average score for other countries was set.

And it needs to be noted that the NAEP test is far from a perfect tool. Comparatively few West Virginia youngsters take it.

Still, in the context of other evaluations that indicate West Virginia students lag behind many others in mathematics and science, the TIMSS should spur education leaders in our states to intensify efforts to find out precisely why our young people do not seem to do well in such comparisons. That will be much easier said than done, of course.

Clearly, however, it needs to be done.