Singapore Tops TIMSS 2015!

The 2015 Trends in Math and Science Study (TIMSS) results were recently published. Students in fourth and eighth grades from more than 40 countries worldwide participated in the most recent test. This test marks a 20-year span of comparative mathematics and science achievement data collected and once again East Asian countries topped the charts.

What does the TIMSS test?

The TIMSS tests students’ math and science knowledge. For the sake of this post, we are going to focus on mathematics. Both content domains (Number, Geometry, and Data) and cognitive domains (Knowing, Applying and Reasoning) are tested every four years.  Student achievement is then compared to other participating countries.  Singapore’s students once again ranked number one in the world, marking the fifth time Singapore has scored highest on the TIMSS  since the country first participated in 1995.  Students in the United States trail students in Singapore by 79 points for fourth grade and 103 points for eighth grade.

TIMSS Results for Select Countries – Fourth Grade Mathematics

1995 2003 2007 2011 2015
Singapore 625 (1) 594 (1) 599 (2) 606 (1) 618 (1)
Hong Kong-SAR 587 (4) 575 (2) 607 (1) 602 (3) 615 (2)
Republic of Korea 611 (2) 605 (2) 608 (3)
Chinese Taipei 564 (4) 576 (3) 591 (4) 597 (4)
Japan 597 (3) 565 (3) 568 (4) 585 (5) 593 (5)
Russian Federation 532 (9) 544 (6) 542 (9) 564 (7)
England 513 (16) 531 (10) 541 (7) 542 (9) 546 (10)
United States 545 (11) 518 (12) 529 (11) 541 (11) 539 (14)
Average* 529 545 500 500 500

* International Average in 1995 and 2003, Scale Average since 2007

How challenging are the questions?

The questions on the TIMSS can be broken down into four levels, or benchmarks; Advanced, High, Intermediate and Low. The examples below are from fourth-grade problems.

A low-level question tests basic mathematical knowledge:

Percentage of students able to answer a low-level question: 99% Singapore, 98% U.S.


An intermediate level question tests the ability to apply basic mathematical knowledge in simple situations:

Percentage of students able to answer an intermediate level question: 93% Singapore, 79% U.S.


A high-level question tests the ability to apply mathematical knowledge and understanding to solve problems:

Percentage of students able to answer a high-level question: 80% Singapore, 47% U.S.


An advanced level question tests the ability to apply knowledge and understanding in a variety of relatively complex situation and to explain mathematical reasoning:

Percentage of students able to answer an advanced level question: 50% Singapore, 14% U.S.

To sum it up, students in the U.S. are really good at solving basic computation questions but struggle with applying their knowledge to solve problems in high and advanced level questions.

For more information about the TIMSS and a complete report, visit

How does Singapore do it?

In a nutshell, a Singapore Math curriculum focuses on deep conceptual understanding and problem-solving with an emphasis on the “why” over the “how” of math.  Concepts are introduced, practiced to mastery and immediately applied to solve both familiar and novel problems. Students are given ample time to grapple with problems to find multiple solutions which develops flexibility with numbers and logical thinking.

In contrast, traditional curricula in the U.S. has tended to focus on memorization and procedures. “Ours is not to reason why; just invert and multiply.”  Math has been taught as a series of steps to follow to tackle what appear to be unrelated concepts. Many concepts are taught per grade level with little time to practice and master before moving on to the next concept; often referred to as a spiraling curriculum. This limits deep mathematical understanding.

What can we do?

There’s still hope. There are a few curricula in the U.S. that follow the Singapore math approach to deepening mathematical understanding and problem-solving.  You can read more about Primary Mathematics and Math in Focus here.

If you are not in a position to change your curriculum, you can integrate some of the best strategies from Singapore into your current curriculum.  Take time to teach basic concepts to mastery, focus on developing number sense with mental math activities and help students to visualize word problems with bar modeling.

Each year more and more schools, school districts and home-schooling parents are making the switch, but just buying new textbooks is not enough. Professional development and teacher training is an often overlooked piece of the puzzle. (That’s where Math Champions comes in. For information on how we can help you use Singapore Mathematics,  please complete the form or send us an email.)


Source: TIMSS 2015 International Results in Mathematics. Copyright © 2016 TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, and
International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. All rights reserved.



Scridb filter

Math On-A-Stick: New Favorite at Minnesota State Fair

math-on-a-stickThose who talk to me for any meaningful amount of time usually are quick to detect an accent, and most can attribute it to the Upper Midwest. I’m a native of the Twin Cities, and “How to Speak Minnesotan” is the most widely lent title in my sizable collection of books.

I love to return home anytime (yes, even in winter), but especially at this time of year when the Minnesota State Fair is open for a 12-day run.

Fate or Coincidence

MN State Fair: Cheese CurdsThis year, four Minnesota schools booked training in mid- to late-August, giving me the opportunity to visit “The Great Minnesota Get-together” for the umpteenth time! Yes, I was excited to see Bob’s Snake Zoo (where I worked a long, LONG time ago) and the 4-H displays, the Miracle of Birth barn and Machinery Hill, and to dine on BOTH cheese curds and the fresh, roasted corn on the cob.

But this year, I couldn’t wait to visit a new attraction: Math On-A-Stick*, the brainchild of educator Christopher Danielson. Inspired by the Fair’s literacy-oriented “Alphabet Forest,” Danielson approached the Minnesota State Fair Foundation to ask about hosting a similar experience with a focus on mathematics. The Foundation liked the idea and Math On-A-Stick debuted at the 2015 State Fair. Here’s a short description from the Fair’s website:

The Math On-A-Stick experience is a welcoming space where kids and grown-ups can explore fun math concepts at the fair. Play with geometric and reptile-shaped tiles to create designs and patterns. Sort, count and look for what’s the same and what’s different in groups of colored eggs on captivating cards. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the fair to enjoy a shapes or numbers book

It was wonderful to spend time at Math On-A-Stick with Christopher, volunteers staffing the exhibit and especially children so engaged by all the hands-on activities available.

Below are some images showing kids (and adults) digging into math.


Math On-A-Stick: Danielson

Cassy with Math On-A-Stick Mastermind, Christopher Danielson

Christopher Danielson is host of the Talking Math With Your Kids website and author of the forthcoming book, Which One Doesn’t Belong? (Of which I have pre-ordered and am anxiously checking the mailbox for.)

*The Minnesota State Fair is famous for the variety of food (and other things) served On-A-Stick: more than 90 vendors [link:] offered such items this year.

Scridb filter

Calling Math Coaches heading to NCSM


Marshall Cavendish is developing an online assessment for the Singapore Mathematics curricula available in the U.S. and is seeking input from elementary or middle school math coaches, specialists, teacher leaders, or curriculum coordinators — familiarity with Singapore Math would be a bonus but not strictly necessary.

If you’re available on April 9th from 3-5pm, RSVP to Carol Collins: ccollins (at) … and tell her Cassy sent you!

Scridb filter

Singapore Math = High Scores for Monterey School

Fourth-graders, from left, Chloe Bernal, Kristofer Kimes and Emma Leamy are ready to answer a question in their math class at Santa Catalina School. The school uses a method of teaching called Singapore Math. (REG REGALADO/Herald Correspondent)

From The Herald, Monterey County:

NEW MATH = HIGH SCORES: Singapore system working at Santa Catalina
By John Sammon

It seems a small thing, concentrating on basics, making sure students master concepts before moving on, but proponents of Singapore Math say the system is dramatically improving math scores at Santa Catalina School.

“We had a good math program before, but we wanted a great math program,” said Christy Pollacci, division head at the private K-12 independent Catholic school in Monterey.

Singapore Math specialist and sixth grade teacher Bill Davidson on the Singapore Math sequence:

Davidson said a lack of emphasis on teaching basic skills in the lower grades is partly to blame for poor test results at schools nationwide. For example, students are expected to grasp algebra and geometry without having mastered fractions and ratios.

“What makes Singapore Math special is the sequence in which the skills are taught,” Davidson said. “Addition and subtraction aren’t taught as separate subjects, but simultaneously, instead of being compartmentalized.”

Scridb filter

Singapore Math: Expect more schools in Kentucky to copy method used in Asia

The Independent in Ashland, Kentucky, predicts the expansion of Singapore math across the Commonwealth.  With the adoption of “much tougher math standards” in Kentucky and the proven success of the Singapore Math pilot program in Fayette County, “new math” may be on its way out.

Maybe it is time to try a new way of teaching math. Like Singapore math, for example. While Singapore math now is being taught as part of a pilot program in nine Lexington schools, don’t be surprised if it soon is taught in schools across the state. That’s because the early results from the schools using Singapore math have been positive.

Full article: Singapore math: Expect more schools in state to copy method used in Asia.

More on Singapore Math in Kentucky: Fayette County to expand Singapore Math program.

Scridb filter
%d bloggers like this: