Science achievement: primary schooling
What We Have Found
The mean science achievement of New Zealand Year 5 students was about the same in 2006 as in 1994. Although results from 1994, 1998, and 2002, showed a steady increase, this trend did not continue in 2006 when the results returned to the 1994 levels.
Date Updated: March 2009
Science scores for Year 5 students.
Why This Is Important
Science is a major influence on many aspects of children's daily lives at play, at school and at home. Science education involves developing skills and knowledge to investigate the living, physical, material, and technological components of the environment and to make sense of them in logical and creative ways.
This indicator draws on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments that included questions on the classification of living things, human health, uses of water, rusting, common energy sources, light, the weather, and changes in the environment.
How We Are Going
There was a significant improvement in New Zealand Year 5 students' science performance over the period 1994 to 2002 but in 2006 this dropped back to 1994 levels. In 2006, the mean performance for New Zealand Year 5 students (504) was statistically similar to the TIMSS Scale Average (500).
|Description||1994 Score||1998 Score||2002 Score||2006 Score|
|95th percentile||Top 5% scored above this level||659||668||647||643|
|75th percentile||Top 25% scored above this level||576||582||579||568|
|25th percentile||Bottom 25% scored below this level||448||454||473||447|
|5th percentile||Bottom 5% scored below this level||310||336||378||344|
The spread of scores, from the 5th to the 95th percentiles, reduced between 1994 and 2006. Most of this reduction results from an improvement in the scores of the lowest performing students, with the 5th percentile increasing from 310 to 344.
Notes: For trend purposes, only students tested in English are included in the results for 2002.
Standard error are presented in paretheses.
The international science benchmarks are four points on the science scale; the advanced benchmark (625), the high benchmark (550), the intermediate benchmark (475), and the low benchmark (400). The performance of students reaching each benchmark is described in relation to the types of questions they answered correctly. Note that the proportion shown for the low benchmark also includes students who performed at the advanced, high, and intermediate benchmarks. This is because, by definition, students who could do the more complex questions associated with, for example, the high benchmark, would also be able to complete the easier questions associated with the intermediate and low benchmarks.
Eight percent of students reached the advanced benchmark in 2006, which was significantly fewer than in 1998 and 1994. While the proportion of students reaching the advanced benchmark peaked in 1998 (12%), the proportion of students reaching the high, intermediate and low benchmarks peaked in 2002 (39%, 74%, and 92% respectively). Thirteen percent of New Zealand Year 5 students did not reach the lowest TIMSS benchmark. In terms of the benchmark definitions, these were students who did not demonstrate some elementary knowledge of life science and physical science.
Figure 2: Percentage of New Zealand Year 5 students reaching the TIMSS science benchmarks (2006)
New Zealand Year 5 students’ mean performance in science was significantly higher than 13 of the 36 countries that also tested at Year 5 level but was significantly lower than 21 countries including Singapore, England, the United States, and Australia. New Zealand’s mean science achievement was not significantly different from that of students in Scotland.
The TIMSS science content area scores were calculated separately from the overall science score. These consisted of 3 areas: Life Science, Physical Science and Earth Science1. New Zealand Year 5 students achieved significantly above the TIMSS Scale Average in Life Science and Earth Science and statistically similar to the TIMSS Scale Average in Physical Science.
|Year||Mean (Standard Error) |
|Mean (Standard Error) |
|Mean (Standard Error) |
|1994||511 (4.8)||499 (7.0)||505 (5.3)|
|1998||511 (5.9)||518 (6.6)||514 (5.9)|
|2002||526 (3.2)||521 (2.3)||523 (2.3)|
|2006||506 (2.8)||502 (3.5)||504 (2.6)|
The mean achievement of Year 5 girls and boys was about the same in 2006 as in 1994. As was the case in the previous assessments, there was no significant difference between Year 5 girls’ and boys’ mean performance. In terms of content area scores in TIMSS 2006, boys scored significantly higher than girls in Earth Science while girls scored significantly higher than boys in Life Science.
(Std Error) European/Pākehā
(Std Error) Asian
(Std Error) Other
| Mean |
|1994||534 (3.9)||457 (12.0)||441 (14.9)||493 (16.7)||521 (14.2)||505 (5.3)|
|1998||541 (4.8)||478 (8.0)||436 (13.8)||517 (10.0)||497 (23.0)||514 (5.9)|
|2002||532 (3.0)||496 (5.2)||496 (5.2)||529 (4.2)||536 (9.9)||523 (2.3)|
|2006||528 (2.3)||459 (4.9)||431 (5.4)||529 (6.8)||502 (6.7)||504 (2.6)|
The TIMSS domains were similar to the Science in New Zealand Curriculum strands in terms of content, with Material World and Physical World combined similar to the physical science domain, Living World similar to the life science domain, and Planet Earth and Beyond similar to the earth science domain.
In terms of ethnic group, European/Pākehā, Māori, and Pasifika students all demonstrated little change between 1994 and 2006. Students in the Other grouping had a drop in achievement between 2002 and 2006. Asian students had the same mean science achievement in 2006 as in 2002 and thus maintained the significant increase observed between 1994 and 2002.
- Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
- Caygill, R. (2008). Science - Trends in Year 5 Science Achievement 1994 to 2006. Results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Wellington: Ministry of Education.
- Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., & Foy, P. (2008). TIMSS 2007 International Mathematics Report. Findings from IEA's Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study at the Fourth and Eight Grades. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.