The results of the Trends In International Mathematics And Science Study (TIMSS) for 2019 were released in December 2020. Below we share some key findings of the study. We suggest how we can use the findings to improve outcomes for ākonga in Aotearoa New Zealand.
New Zealand has participated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) every four years since it began in 1994. TIMSS compares the performance of our Year 5 and Year 9 students with that of students from 58 nations, on tests of Mathematics and Science.
Students are tested late in the school year. Since many items are reused across consecutive TIMSS, a common scale allows us to measure trends in performance over time. TIMSS gives each participating nation a ranking based on mean score, and a measure of range in performance. It also indicates areas in Mathematics and Science that are relative strengths and weaknesses for our ākonga.
Alongside, NMSSA (National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement) TIMSS gives us a longitudinal view of the performance of students in our education system.
Summary of Findings (show)
The mean mathematics score of New Zealand Year 5 students was 487, which was lower than that of 38 countries, and New Zealand continued to be the lowest performing English-speaking country. Mean score has been relatively stable since 2002. New Zealand showed a wide range of achievement compared to other nations. Our Year 5 students are good at answering data related questions (Statistics) but are relatively poor in Number, Geometry, and Measurement. Click to see the Year 5 report.
The mean score of our Year 9 students was 482, which was lower than 20 countries, including all other English-speaking nations. Our mean score at Year 9 has shown a gradual decline since 1994 and 2019 was our worst result. We have a wide range in student performance. New Zealand students have relative strength in Statistics (like other Western nations), but perform particularly poorly in Algebra and Geometry. Click to see the Year 9 report.
In general, our students perform relatively well on application and reasoning tasks but perform relatively poorly on items that involve recall of knowledge. In practice, students are unable to respond to items assessing application and reasoning without being able to recall important related knowledge.
What does TIMSS assess? (show)
TIMSS items are based on a transparent assessment framework that clearly outlines the concepts and cognitive processes that will be assessed. TIMSS also assesses the cognitive domains of knowing, applying, and reasoning. An individual item the students attempt has both a content aspect and a cognitive aspect.
You can access the assessment frameworks using the links below. It is important to note that the frameworks do not exactly match the achievement objectives, or the balance of strands, in the New Zealand Curriculum. That is true for all countries that participate in TIMSS, as Mathematics Curricula vary considerably.
What do TIMSS items look like? (show)
Countries have a choice of a pencil and paper or digital version of TIMSS. A combination of selected response (multi-choice) and constructed response (open answer) items are included. The development of items includes an extensive quality control process. Steps include:
- Drafting items and scoring guides
- Checking of draft items by subject matter experts
- Translation of the items
- Field testing the items with students
- Checking the performance of items for reliability and bias
- Review of items and creation of item blocks
Over 130 000 students, and about 12 000 teachers, were involved in the field trials. More detail is available in the technical report on the development of TIMSS 2019.
Periodically, TIMSS releases a restricted set of items under stringent copyright restrictions. Development of the items is extremely expensive, and about half of the items from each cycle are retained for the next cycle to allow the same difficulty scale to be used. Click to download sample items.
What should we do? (show)
A synthesis of the findings of the TIMSS report, along with the sets of released example items, shows specific areas that require more attention at Years 5 and 9. Obviously, students need to work on the foundations that support these areas in the previous years. For example, understanding of decimals requires understanding of fractions and whole number place value. Those concepts need to develop through Years 1-4.
If you teach students in Years 5 and 9, try to incorporate targeted teaching of each area in your long-term plan whilst retaining your usual balanced approach to all topics. New Zealand has a comparatively broad mathematics and statistics curriculum at the primary years. Below are listed key areas for Year 5, and Year 9, in which the performance of New Zealand students requires improvement. Click on the links for related teaching and learning resources available on nzmaths.
- Year 5
- Year 9