Mathematics achievement: middle schooling

What We Have Found

There has been no significant change in New Zealand Year 9 students' mathematics performance over the period 1994 to 2014.

Date Updated: February 2017

Indicator Description

Mathematics scores for Year 9 students.

Why This Is Important

A strong foundation in mathematics is particularly important as it allows children to better acquire new and advanced knowledge in mathematics, which contributes to successful participation in tertiary education and an increasingly knowledge-based society. For children, learning mathematics will be integral to a great many aspects of their lives. These aspects include time, money and budgeting, being fair to others, claiming rights, recognising and generalising from symbols and patterns, using technology, interpreting information, thinking systematically and creatively, making things, and solving problems.

This mathematics indicator draws on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments, providing information about the cumulative health of mathematics education after primary and intermediate school, and towards the end of the first year of secondary schooling.

How We Are Going

There has been no significant change in New Zealand Year 9 students' mathematics performance over the period 1994 to 2014. The overall mean mathematics score for New Zealand Year 9 students in 2014 was 493, significantly lower than the TIMSS Scale Centre Point (500).

The spread of scores, from the 5th to the 95th percentiles has been wider in 2014 than in 2010 and in 2002. When compared with 2002, there were more low achievers in 2014.


Figure 1: Distribution of New Zealand Year 9 mathematics achievement in TIMSS from 1994 to 2014
 2013-inID-1776-fig1

Notes:

  1. Standard errors are presented in parentheses.
  2. Data for the small proportion of students assessed in Māori in 2002 (~2%) are excluded from this table to ensure comparability with data reported for 1994, 1998, 2010 and 2014.

New Zealand Year 9 students' mean performance in mathematics was significantly higher than 18 of the countries that also tested at Year 9 level but was significantly lower than 17 countries including Singapore, England, the United States, and Australia. New Zealand's mean mathematics achievement was not significantly different from that of students in three other countries: Sweden, Italy and Malta.

There are four points on the TIMSS mathematics scale which make up international mathematics benchmarks; 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. Six percent of students reached the advanced benchmark in 2014. Fifteen percent of New Zealand Year 9 students did not reach the lowest TIMSS benchmark. In terms of the benchmark definitions, these were students who did not demonstrate some knowledge of whole numbers and decimals, operations, and basic graphs.

Figure 2: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students reaching the TIMSS mathematics benchmarks (1994 to 2014)
2013-inID-1776-fig2

Notes:

  1. Standard errors are presented in parentheses.
  2. 'At or above' means that the proportion of students at the benchmark includes those that achieved at higher benchmarks also.
  3. Data for the small proportion of students assessed in Māori in 2002 (~2%) are excluded from this table to ensure comparability with data reported for 2010 and 2014.

Proportionately fewer students reached the intermediate and low benchmarks in 2014 (58% and 85%) compared with 1994 (64% and 89%). 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. Although the proportion of students reaching the high and advanced benchmarks also appears to have reduced, this reduction was not statistically significant.

Items in TIMSS at the Year 9 level were designed around four content areas of mathematics: number; algebra; geometry; and data and chance. The content area scores were calculated on the same scale as the overall mathematics score and therefore can be compared with the overall score. As in 2010, New Zealand Year 9 students performed relatively better on the data and chance domain and relatively worse on the algebra domain in 2014.

Ethnic Group

The average mathematics achievement of students in any ethnic grouping don't show a significant change since 2002, except those classified under Other, whose achievement dropped significantly between 2010 and 2014.

Table 1: New Zealand Year 9 students' mean mathematics scores in TIMSS, by ethnicity (2002-2014)
Notes:
  1. Standard errors are presented in parentheses.
  2. Data for the small proportion of students assessed in Māori in 2002 (~2%) are excluded from this table to ensure comparability with data reported for 2010 and 2014.
  3. For this indicator ethnicity is reported by total response. If students identified with more than one ethnicity, their data is included in all chosen ethnic groups.
  4. For this indicator European/Pākehā refers to people who affiliate as New Zealand European, Other European or European (not further defined). For example, this includes and is not limited to people who consider themselves as Australian (excluding Australian Aborigines), British and Irish, American, Spanish, and Ukrainian.
  5. The Other grouping in this indicator includes students who are from the Middle Eastern, Latin American, and African ethnic groupings.
Year Mean
European
/ Pākehā
Māori Pasifika Asian Other Overall
2002 506 (5.8) 458 (4.8) 446 (10.2) 548 (11.4) 497 (13.4) 494 (5.5)
2010 498 (4.6) 451 (5.5) 442 (8.7) 530 (9.1) 483 (10.6) 488 (5.4)
2014 506 (2.3) 451 (3.6) 438 (5.9) 532 (9.4) 452 (10.7) 493 (3.4)

Gender

In 2014, Year 9 boys and girls had the same mathematics achievement as each other, on average, but boys had a wider range than girls. Similar proportions of Year 9 girls and boys reached each of the mathematics achievement benchmarks in 2014/15. Boys and girls had similar achievement, on average, across all mathematics content domains (number, algebra, geometry, and data and chance), and all cognitive domains (knowing, applying and reasoning).

The mean mathematics achievement of Year 9 girls significantly decreased between 2002 and 2010 and increased back in 2014 to be similar to that in 2002. In accordance with the overall increase pattern, more girls reached the high and advanced mathematics achievement benchmarks in 2014/15, compared to 2010/11. They made significant progress on almost all mathematics content and cognitive domains in 2014/15, compared to 2010/11. In contrast there has not been a significant change in the mean achievement of Year 9 boys since 1994.

Table 2: New Zealand Year 9 students' mean mathematics scores in TIMSS, by gender (2002-2014)
Notes:
  1. Standard errors are presented in parentheses.
  2. Data for the small proportion of students assessed in Māori in 2002 (~2%) are excluded from this table to ensure comparability with data reported for 2010 and 2014.
Year Mean
Girls Boys Overall
1994 497 (5.3) 505 (6.1) 501 (4.7)
1998 495 (5.6) 487 (7.8) 491 (5.3)
2002 495 (4.9) 493 (7.3) 494 (5.5)
2010 478 (5.4) 496 (6.1) 488 (5.4)
2014 494 (3.2) 491 (4.6) 493 (3.4)

Decile

The average mathematics achievement of students from higher decile schools (9 and 10) was higher (536) than those from low decile schools (1 and 2 – 422 scale score points). There were high-achieving students in all decile groupings with seven percent of students from deciles 1 and 2 schools achieving at or above the high benchmark. However, there were more students in the high decile schools achieving at or above the high benchmark. There were also low-achieving students in all decile groupings with five percent of students from deciles 9 and 10 schools not reaching the low benchmark. However, there were more students in low decile schools achieving below the low benchmark.

Figure 3: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students in each decile grouping reaching the TIMSS mathematics benchmarks in 2014 2013-inID-1776-fig2

Notes:

  1. Standard errors are presented in parentheses.
  2. 1. "At or above" means that the proportion of Year 9 students at the benchmark includes those that achieved at higher benchmarks also. For example, the 61% of students in decile 1 and 2 schools that achieved at or above the low benchmark includes 36% who achieved at the low benchmark, 18% at the intermediate, 6% at the high, and less than 1% at the advanced benchmark.

References

The Ministry of Education has established an Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis Programme to systematically identify, evaluate, analyse, synthesise and make accessible, relevant evidence linked to a range of learner outcomes. Evidence about what works for this indicator can be found in: