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TIMSS 2003

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2003

The IEA Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003 was the third in a continuing cycle of international mathematics and science assessments conducted every four years. The aim of TIMSS (the earlier acronym for the Third International Mathematics and Science Study) was to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics and science by providing data about student achievement in relation to different types of curricula, instructional practices, and school environments.

In this cycle, the study placed more emphasis on questions and tasks that would offer better insight into the analytical, problem-solving, and inquiry skills and capabilities of students. In addition to collecting achievement data, TIMSS 2003 also gathered extensive background information to address concerns about the quantity, quality, and content of instruction. For countries that participated in previous assessments (19951999), TIMSS 2003 provided three-cycle trends at the eighth grade and data over a second point in time at the fourth grade. The main data collection for TIMSS 2003 was conducted in 2002–2003.

Target population

There were two target populations for the study: fourth grade and eighth grade students.

Participating education systems

Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium (Flemish), Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada (Ontario and Quebec), Chile, Chinese Taipei, Cyprus, Egypt, England, Estonia, Ghana, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palestinian National Authority, Philippines, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Serbia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain (Basque Country), Sweden, Syria, Tunisia, United States (with Indiana as a benchmarking participant), and Yemen.

Key findings

Student achievement in mathematics and science

Asian countries outperformed many of the other participants. Singapore was the top performing country at both the fourth and eighth grades in mathematics and science. Students from Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Hong Kong SAR also did very well across the two subject areas.

There were large differences across countries in the percentages of students reaching the international benchmarks (performance levels identified by TIMSS to describe what students know and can do in mathematics and science, in four levels from low to advanced). In mathematics at the fourth grade, Singapore had 38% of its students reaching the Advanced International Benchmark, followed by just over 20% of the students in Hong Kong SAR and Japan. The highest performing countries at the eighth grade—Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Korea, and Hong Kong SAR—had about one-third or more of their students reaching the Advanced International Benchmark. In contrast, 19 of the lowest-performing countries had 1% of less of their students reaching this benchmark.

In science, Singapore had 25% of its fourth grade students reaching the Advanced International Benchmark. The highest performing countries at the eighth grade—Singapore and Chinese Taipei—had one-third to one-fourth of their students reaching the Advanced International Benchmark.

At the fourth grade, many countries showed significant improvement between 1995 and 2003 in mathematics and science. At the eighth grade, there were improvements in several countries, but declines in a number of others.

Gender differences

Gender differences were negligible in many countries for mathematics, but in science at the eighth grade boys had significantly higher achievement than girls in the majority of countries. Nevertheless, girls had greater improvement on average than boys in science at the eighth grade, especially since 1999.

Home and school factors

The home context was important in helping to foster higher achievement. At the eighth grade, students with more highly educated parents had higher achievement in mathematics and science. Across both subject areas and grade levels, students who always or almost always spoke the language of the test at home, had more books in the home, and reported using computers at home and school also had higher average achievement.

At least moderate curriculum coverage of the topics assessed was associated with higher achievement, but did not, in and of itself, necessarily lead to successful learning. The content also needed to be delivered in the classroom, in an effective way. School environments that were supportive of teachers and conducive to learning (measured, for instance, by principals' and teachers' perceptions of school climate, and teachers' characterization of school safety) were related to higher student achievement in mathematics and science.

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

Major publications

Martin, M.O. (Ed.). (2005). TIMSS 2003 user guide for the international database. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., & Chrostowski, S.J. (Eds.). (2004). TIMSS 2003 technical report. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., Gonzalez, E.J., & Chrostowski, S.J. (2004). TIMSS 2003 international science report: Findings from IEA's Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study at the fourth and eighth grades. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., & Foy, P. (2005). IEA's TIMSS 2003 international report on achievement in the mathematics cognitive domains: Findings from a developmental project. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Gonzalez, E.J., & Chrostowski, S.J. (2004). TIMSS 2003 international mathematics report: Findings from IEA's Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study at the fourth and eighth grades. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Smith, T.A., Garden, R.A., Gregory, K.D., Gonzalez, E.J., Chrostowski, S.J., & O'Connor, K.M. (2002). Marcos teóricos y especificaciones de evaluación de TIMSS 2003 [TIMSS assessment frameworks and specifications 2003]. Madrid: INCE.

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Smith, T.A., Garden, R.A., Gregory, K.D., Gonzalez, E.J., Chrostowski, S.J., & O'Connor, K.M. (2003). TIMSS assessment frameworks and specifications 2003 (2nd ed.). Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

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