Science achievement: primary schooling

What We Have Found

The mean science achievement of New Zealand Year 5 students was about the same in 2014 as in 1994, but was significantly higher than 2011. The results of 2002 still remain the highest science achievement in 20 years.

Date Updated: February 2017

Indicator Description

Science scores for Year 5 students.

Why This Is Important

Science is a major influence on many aspects of children's daily lives. 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. An understanding of science is necessary as society grapples with major challenges and opportunities that confront our world.

This indicator draws on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments that included questions on the structure of living things, human health, conducting fair experiments, dissolving, electrical circuits, magnetism, fossils, and the environmental impact of human behaviour.

How We Are Going

The mean science achievement of New Zealand Year 5 students in 2014 was the same as that of the students 20 years ago, but was significantly  higher than 2011. The results of 2002 still remain the highest science achievement since 1994.

The spread of scores, from the 5th to the 95th percentiles in 2014 was relatively wide but has not changed since 2011 and was not as wide as it was in 1994 and 1998. However, both the top and bottom of the distribution, as well as the mean for 2014, were considerably lower than in 2002.

Science is a major influence on many aspects of children's daily lives. 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. An understanding of science is necessary as society grapples with major challenges and opportunities that confront our world.

This indicator draws on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments that included questions on the structure of living things, human health, conducting fair experiments, dissolving, electrical circuits, magnetism, fossils, and the environmental impact of human behaviour.

Figure 1: Distribution of New Zealand Year 5 science achievement in TIMSS from 1994 to 2014
2013-inID-1867-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.

The proportion of students reaching each benchmark in 2014 was lower than in 2002.  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.

Figure 2: Percentage of New Zealand Year 5 students reaching the TIMSS science benchmarks (1994 to 2014)
2013-inID-1867-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 1994, 1998, 2006, 2011 and 2014.

New Zealand Year 5 students' mean performance in science was significantly higher than 14 of the countries that also tested at Year 5 (Grade 4 internationally) level but was significantly lower than 30 countries including Singapore, England, the United States, and Australia. New Zealand's mean science achievement was not significantly different from that of students in two other countries: Belgium (Flemish) and Portugal.

Items in TIMSS at the Year 5 level were designed around three content areas of science: life science, physical science and Earth science. The content area scores were calculated on the same scale as the overall science score and therefore can be compared with the overall score. New Zealand Year 5 students performed relatively better on Earth science and life science questions compared with physical science in 2014.

Ethnic Group

The mean science achievement of the Pākehā/European students has been similar across 2002, 2011 and 2014, while students from all other ethnic groups saw a significant decrease in their achievement between 2002 and 2014.

Table 1: New Zealand Year 5 students' mean science scores in TIMSS by ethnicity, 1994-2014
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 2011 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. Total response ethnicity data is not available for 2006.
  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 535 (5.3) 487 (5.5) 471 (7.5) 539 (8.7) 523 (12.2) 523 (2.3)
2011 525 (2.4) 472 (2.9) 443 (4.6) 503 (4.8) 473 (7.4) 497 (2.4)
2014 526 (2.6) 470 (5.1) 446 (4.6) 514 (3.0) 488 (5.4) 506 (2.7)

Gender

The mean science achievement of Year 5 girls and boys was the same in 2014. This pattern was evident for nearly all of the previous cycles, with the exception of 1994 where girls had higher achievement than boys. However, the range of achievement for boys was wider than for girls in 2014 and in all previous cycles. In terms of the content and cognitive areas in TIMSS 2014, Year 5 girls scored significantly higher than boys in life science and reasoning while boys scored significantly higher in Earth science, on average, but the same in all other areas.

Table 2: New Zealand Year 5 students' mean science scores in TIMSS by gender, 1994-2014
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 1994, 1998, 2006, 2011 and 2014.
YearMean
GirlsBoysOverall
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)
2011 496 (3.0) 497 (2.6) 497 (2.3)
2014 507 (3.2) 504 (3.0) 506 (2.7)

Decile

The mean science achievement of students from higher decile schools (9 and 10) was higher (540) than those from low decile schools (1 and 2 – 432 scale score points). There were high-achieving students in all decile groupings with eight 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 four 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 5 students in each decile grouping reaching the TIMSS
science benchmarks in 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.

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: