TIMSS 2015, the sixth installment of the IEA’s TIMSS, revealed that grade 4 and grade 8 students’ mathematics and science achievement had improved, not only over the short term but also over the twenty years since the study began. The majority of countries participating in both TIMSS 1995 and in TIMSS 2015 had increased students’ achievement.
TIMSS 2015 reported overall achievement as well as results according to four international benchmarks (advanced, high, medium, and low), by major content domains (number, algebra, and geometry in mathematics, and earth science, biology, and chemistry in science), and by cognitive domains (knowing, applying, and reasoning). Like the previous TIMSS assessments (conducted in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011), the study collected detailed information about curriculum and curriculum implementation, instructional practices, and school resources.
The 2015 study marked the first time since previous TIMSS Advanced cycles (conducted in 1995 and 2008) that TIMSS together with TIMSS Advanced provided countries with a complete profile of mathematics and science learning from elementary through to the end of secondary school.
The TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at the Lynch School of Education, Boston College, United States, served as the international study center for TIMSS 2015 and TIMSS Advanced 2015, working in close cooperation with the IEA, and the national centers of participating countries.
For more information, including in-depth reports and analyses, please visit the TIMSS 2015 website.
TIMSS assessed two target populations: fourth grade and eighth grade students. TIMSS Advanced assessed students specializing in mathematics and physics in their final year of secondary education (typically 12th grade).
Argentina (Buenos Aires), Armenia, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium (Flemish), Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada (with Ontario and Quebec as benchmarking systems), Chile, Chinese Taipei, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Oman, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (with Abu Dhabi and Dubai as benchmarking systems), and United States (with Florida as a benchmarking system).
Student Achievement in Mathematics and Science
Five East Asian countries were the highest achieving countries in mathematics at fourth and eighth grades in TIMSS 2015—Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong SAR, Chinese Taipei, and Japan. In science at the fourth grade, the Russian Federation performed among the top four countries—including Singapore, Korea, and Japan. At the eighth grade, Singapore, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Korea, and Slovenia were the top five performers. The highest achieving countries scored around 600 points on the TIMSS scale, while the lowest achieving countries scored about 370 scale score points. Long term and short term trends are up. In both subjects and at both grades, more countries registered increases than decreases from 1995 to 2015 and from 2011 to 2015. More students are now reaching the most challenging benchmarks.
TIMSS Advanced 2015 revealed disappointing trends in advanced mathematics. Of the six countries with 20 year trend data, France, Italy, and Sweden had lower average achievement in 2015 than in 1995, while the Russian Federation, Slovenia, and the United States had no significant difference. As a bright spot, Norway and Sweden had upturns between 2008 and 2015. Achievement trends in physics were even more disappointing. Of the six countries with 20 year trend data, France, Norway, the Russian Federation, and Sweden experienced substantial decreases in average achievement since 1995, while Slovenia and the United States had no significant change. No country significantly improved their TIMSS Advanced score over the 20 year period.
In 1995, TIMSS reported small gender differences in mathematics at both the fourth and eighth grades. In countries with a difference, the boys had higher achievement. In science, there was a pronounced advantage for boys, with boys outperforming girls in about half the countries at fourth grade and almost all the countries at eighth grade. In 2015, TIMSS reported a different situation with far fewer countries where boys had higher achievement and quite a few countries where girls had higher achievement, especially in science. The 20 year trends for the countries that participated in both 1995 and 2015 generally support this change, showing reduced gender gaps, especially in science and especially at the eighth grade. However, TIMSS Advanced revealed boys still generally outperformed the girls in advanced mathematics and physics, and girls were still less likely to take such specialist courses.
Curricula are Evolving
Countries devote considerable energy and resources to updating their mathematics and science curricula. In each assessment at least half the countries report they are revising their curricula. During the 20 years of TIMSS, nearly all countries have implemented periodic curriculum reforms, ranging from updates to full-scale revisions. Mathematics and science are central to schools’ overall academic programs, allotted one-fourth to one-third of available instructional time. Curricular guidelines that include mathematics and science are even beginning to emerge in preprimary programs. Topics that once were the province of higher grades have moved down in grades. Data and statistics frequently are included in fourth grade mathematics, and in many countries fourth grade science has shifted from the general study of students’ environments to life science, physical science, and Earth science.
Teacher Education is also Changing
Countries have been raising the requirements for becoming a teacher, particularly for primary school. Teachers were more highly educated in 2015 than in 2007. The percentage of fourth grade students whose teachers have at least a bachelors degree increased from 78 to 85 percent, and the percentage with advanced degrees rose from 26 to 31 percent. At eighth grade, the percentage with advanced degrees increased from 25 to 30 percent.
Fourth grade students spend more time receiving mathematics instruction than eighth grade students—151 annual hours at fourth grade compared to 130 hours at eighth grade in 2015. Eighth grade students spend more time receiving science instruction than fourth grade students—116 annual hours compared to 69 hours at fourth grade. Total instructional time devoted to the two subjects at both grades appears relatively stable from 1995 to 2015.
For more information, including in-depth reports and analyses, please visit the TIMSS website.