TIMSS 1995

Third International Mathematics and Science Study

The IEA Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 1995) was the first in a four-year cycle of assessments of trends in students' mathematics and science achievement, now known as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

More than half a million students were tested, and questionnaires gathered extensive information about the teaching and learning of mathematics and science from them as well as from thousands of teachers and school principals. TIMSS 1995 also investigated the mathematics and science curricula of the participating countries through an analysis of curriculum guides, textbooks, and other curricular materials. In many participating countries, sub-samples of fourth and eighth grade students who participated in the main testing sessions were selected for a performance assessment, in which they designed experiments, manipulated materials, tested hypotheses, and recorded findings when completing a range of mathematics and science tasks. The main data collection occurred in 1994–1995.

Target population

TIMSS 1995 was conducted at five grade levels:

  • students enrolled in the two grades containing the largest proportion of 9-year-old students (third and fourth grade in most countries);
  • students enrolled in the two grades containing the largest proportion of 13-year-old students (seventh and eighth grade in most countries);
  • students in their final year of secondary education. As an additional option, countries could test two special sub-groups of these students: students taking advanced courses in mathematics and/or students taking advanced courses in physics.

All countries participated in the assessment at the seventh and eighth grades (mandatory population). The other grade levels were optional.

Participating education systems

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium (Flemish), Belgium (French), Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Scotland, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, and United States.

Key findings

Primary grades

In mathematics, Singapore and Korea were the top performing countries. Japan and Hong Kong also performed among the best in the world, as did the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Austria. In science, the highest level of achievement was identified in Korea, Japan, the United States, Australia, and Austria.

Gender differences in mathematics achievement were small or non-existent. In science, boys outperformed girls in about half of the countries, particularly in earth science and physical science. In nearly every country, a large majority of boys and girls reported that they liked mathematics and science. Having educational resources in the home (e.g., a computer, the student's own study desk, 200 or more books) was strongly related to mathematics and science achievement in every country.

In most countries, mathematics classes typically met for 3–4 hours per week. In the case of science, there was more differentiation. In half of the countries, science was taught for less than two hours a week, and in one-fifth of the countries, science instruction was integrated with the teaching of other subjects. Across countries, the most frequently used instructional approaches were working together as a class with the teacher teaching the whole classroom, and students working individually. Textbooks were the major written source that teachers used in deciding how to present a topic to the students.

Middle school grades

Nine of the twelve countries that performed above the international average for mathematics at the primary school level also did so at the eighth grade. These countries were Singapore, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, and Hungary. In science, the same was true for Korea, Japan, Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic, England, Singapore, and Slovenia.

For most countries, gender differences were minimal in mathematics but pervasive in science. Boys had higher achievement, particularly in physics, chemistry, and earth science. As in the case of primary school, home factors (e.g., educational resources, books in the home, parental education) were strongly related to mathematics and science achievement in every TIMSS country.

In almost every country, the majority of students agreed that they did well in mathematics and science. Interestingly, some of the countries with the highest achievement were those whose students had the most negative perception of success, namely Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong.

Both mathematics and science classes in most countries met for 2–3.5 hours per week. In some countries this amount was higher (up to 5 hours per week), but no clear patterns could be identified between the number of in-class instructional hours and achievement. As in primary school, working together as a class with the teacher teaching the whole class and having students work individually under teacher supervision were the most frequently used instructional approaches. In most participating countries, teachers reported using a textbook to teach both science and mathematics for 95% or more of the students.

Final year of secondary school

The Netherlands and Sweden were the top performing countries in mathematics literacy. The top performers in science literacy were Sweden, the Netherlands, Iceland, and Norway.

In science literacy, male students had significantly higher achievement than female students in all countries except South Africa. In mathematics literacy, there were no significant gender differences in performance in Hungary and the United States. Students enrolled in academic programs had higher average achievement than students in vocational programs. The average achievement of students in technical programs was generally somewhere between that of the academic and vocational students.

Despite the different educational approaches, structures, and organization across countries, it was clear that parental education was positively related to students' mathematics and science literacy.

Final year of secondary school: Advanced mathematics and physics

Led by France, the countries performing above the international average in advanced mathematics also included the Russian Federation, Switzerland, Denmark, Cyprus, and Lithuania. In advanced physics, Norwegian and Swedish students performed significantly better than students in the other participating countries. The Russian Federation and Denmark also performed above the international average. In advanced mathematics, male students outperformed female students in all countries except Greece, Cyprus, Australia, Italy, and Slovenia. In physics, male students had significantly higher achievement than females.

Most final-year students who had taken advanced mathematics or physics planned to attend university. Popular choices for future study included engineering, business, and the health sciences.

For more information, please contact the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center.

Major publications

Beaton, A.E., Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., Gonzalez, E.J., Smith, T.A., & Kelly, D.L. (1996). Science achievement in the middle school years: IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Beaton, A.E., Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Gonzalez, E.J., Kelly, D.L., & Smith, T.A. (1996). Mathematics achievement in the middle school years: IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Gonzalez, E.J., & Smith, T.A. (Eds.). (1997). User guide for the TIMSS international database: Primary and middle school years. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Gonzalez, E.J., Smith, T.A., & Sibberns, H. (Eds.). (1998). User guide for the TIMSS international database: Final year of secondary school. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Harmon, M., Smith, T.A., Martin, M.O., Kelly, D.L., Beaton, A.E., Mullis, I.V.S., Gonzalez, E.J., & Orpwood, G. (1997). Performance assessment in IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Howson, G. (1995). Mathematics textbooks: A comparative study of Grade 8 texts. TIMSS monograph no. 3. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.

Martin, M.O., & Kelly, D.L. (Eds.). (1996). Third International Mathematics and Science Study technical report, Volume I: Design and development. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., & Kelly, D.L. (Eds.). (1997). Third International Mathematics and Science Study technical report, Volume II: Implementation and analysis—primary and middle school years. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., & Kelly, D.L. (Eds.). (1998). Third International Mathematics and Science Study technical report, Volume III: Implementation and analysis—final year of secondary school. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., & Mullis, I.V.S. (Eds.). (1996). Third International Mathematics and Science Study: Quality assurance in data collection. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., Beaton, A.E., Gonzalez, E.J., Smith, T.A., & Kelly, D.L. (1997). Science achievement in the primary school years: IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., Gonzalez, E.J., Smith, T.A., & Kelly, D.L. (1999). School contexts for learning and instruction: IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., Gregory, K.D., Hoyle, C., & Shen, C. (2000). Effective schools in science and mathematics: IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Beaton, A.E., Gonzalez, E.J., Kelly, D.L., & Smith, T.A. (1997). Mathematics achievement in the primary school years: IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Beaton, A.E., Gonzalez, E.J., Kelly, D.L., & Smith, T.A. (1998). Mathematics and science achievement in the final year of secondary school: IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Fierros, E.G., Goldberg, A.L., & Stemler, S.E. (2000). Gender differences in achievement: IEA's Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Orpwood, G., & Garden, R.A. (1998). Assessing mathematics and science literacy: TIMSS monograph no. 4. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.

Robitaille, D.F. (Ed.). (1997). National contexts for mathematics and science education: An encyclopedia of the education systems participating in TIMSS. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.

Robitaille, D.F., & Beaton, A.E. (Eds.). (2002). Secondary analysis of the TIMSS data. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Robitaille, D.F., Beaton, A.E., & Plomp, T. (Eds.). (2000). The impact of TIMSS on the teaching & learning of mathematics & science. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.

Robitaille, D.F., & Garden, R.A. (Eds.). (1996). Research questions & study design: TIMSS monograph no. 2. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.

Robitaille, D.F., Schmidt, W.H., Raizen, S., McKnight, C., Britton, E., & Nicol, C. (1993). Curriculum frameworks for mathematics and science: TIMSS monograph no. 1. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.

Schmidt, W.H., McKnight, C.C., Valverde, G.A., Houang, R.T., & Wiley, D.E. (1997). Many visions, many aims, Volume 1: A cross-national investigation of curricular intentions in school mathematics. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Schmidt, W.H., Raizen, S.A., Britton, E.D., Bianchi, L.J., & Wolfe, R.G. (1997). Many visions, many aims, Volume 2: A cross-national investigation of curricular intentions in school science. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.