Show, don't tell

19 February 2013

The National Center for Education Statistics recently released results for US students on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), a program testing maths and science every couple years at grades four and eight over the past decade and a half.

TIMSS is open to other countries and subnational education systems. In 2011, 57 in total participated in grade four and 56 in grade eight. Nine states submitted public school samples separately from the US sample.

The results show improvement for the US at grade four in mathematics since 2007, when the test was last taken. Eighthgraders' average scores "held steady" in both math and science since 2007, as did fourth-graders' average scores in science.

Let's speak hypothetically that a ranking among other countries on a standardised test indicates something more signi_ cant than students' actual comprehension. From that perspective, the situation isn't as dire as we may think or may be lead to believe by cable news.

At grade four in maths, where the US saw improvement, the nation placed at number nine. Ranking higher was: Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Northern Ireland, North Carolina and Flemish Belgium.

Where scores "held steady," the US still placed in the top quarter. For science, US grade four average score was ranked seventh, below Korea, Singapore, Finland, Japan, the Russian Federation and Chinese Taipei.

In grade eight maths, 11 systems, Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong-China, Japan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, the Russian Federation, North Carolina, Quebec-Canada and Indiana, ranked higher than the US.

For science, US grade eight ranked below 12 systems, Singapore, Massachusetts, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Japan, Minnesota, Finland, Alberta-Canada, Slovenia, the Russian Federation, Colorado and Hong Kong-China.

Now, there are still personnel gaps to _ ll in the underground construction industry as well as engineering in general, and that's not to mention the shortage of skilled labor. With younger students seemingly better understanding the (age appropriate) skills and knowledge of maths and science, that is where the engineering professions need to focus their outreach.

It's all well and good to be sure industry groups are inclusive of college students, but they are already on the right path. And outreach should still continue to be directed to high school and middle school students however possible. More importantly if students are statistically doing better in science and maths in the elementary level than in their later school years, let's get involved at that point in their education. Naming a TBM is a small start. Letting students climb on board to see the fullscale of a TBM could do more.

Improving, and hopefully the younger generation's comprehension too, will not equal rising numbers in the engineering _ eld without some effort from industry. As they say in journalism school: show, don't tell.