On this sunny first day of school in many Minnesota districts, here's a reason to be optimistic about young Minnesotans' learning potential.

The latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which surveyed the knowledge of more than 600,000 fourth- and eighth-graders around the world, turned up some surprising good news for Minnesota and even for the United States as a whole, according to an article in today's New York Times' ScienceTimes section.

The study, which used 2011 data, the most recent available, looked at achievement in 63 nations, also including data from many U.S. states, which it treated as if they were countries. Here are the study's top 10 science and math achievers:

Singapore, Massachusetts, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, MINNESOTA, Finland, Slovenia, Colorado and Russia.

The United States as a nation placed 17th in the list, after the above list and then after Russia, Hong Kong, England, Indiana, Connecticut, North Carolina and Florida. Every entity in this list was well above average in math and science scores.

The New York Times story focused on Massachusetts, whose gains reflected improvement across both affluent and poorer districts.

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