Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.

Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.

More Info

I would like to contribute

By Alexander Lane March 13, 2009

Eighth graders are in ninth, but showing improvement, not falling

In his first major education speech, President Obama endorsed charter schools, merit pay for teachers and increases in school spending. He justified his agenda partly by saying American students are slipping compared to counterparts around the world.

"We've let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us," Obama said in the March 10 speech to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "In eighth grade math, we've fallen to ninth place."

Since Obama brought up math, we decided to check his. Turns out we had to pull out the red pen.

We asked the White House to defend Obama's claim, and received no response. His claim that eighth grade math students in the United States are in ninth place internationally almost certainly comes from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a periodic comparison of math and science achievement carried out since 1995 by research institutions and government agencies worldwide.  

Featured Fact-check

The most recent study , published in 2007, did indeed show U.S. eighth graders in ninth place behind five East Asian countries and Hungary, England and Russia. 

But it was misleading to say they had "fallen" to ninth place. In 1995, they came in 28th . In 1999, they moved up to 19th . In 2003, they climbed to 15th . So rather than falling, U.S. students have actually improved in the past decade.

We considered giving the president partial credit since American students did come in ninth. But the point of his statement was that they had "fallen" to that position and that mathematics performance in the United States is getting worse relative to other countries. And that's just plain False.

Our Sources

New York Times, President Obama’s Remarks to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce , March 10, 2009, accessed March 12, 2009

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Table 1. Average mathematics scores of fourth- and eighth-grade students, by country: 2007 , accessed March 11, 2009

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Table 5. Average mathematics scale scores of eighth-grade students, by country: 2003 , accessed March 11, 2009

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Mathematics and Science Achievement of Eighth-Graders in 1999 , accessed March 12, 2009  

Third International Mathematics and Science Study, 1995,  Key Findings , accessed March 12, 2009

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Alexander Lane

Eighth graders are in ninth, but showing improvement, not falling

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up