Science achievement: middle schooling
What We Have Found
New Zealand is continuing its comparatively high performance in science achievement at the middle schooling level with no significant change over the period 1994 to 2014.
Date Updated: February 2017
Science scores for Year 9 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, chemical reactions, experimental procedures, insulation and conduction, forces, volcanoes, and the effect of weather on the environment. The indicator provides information about the cumulative health of science 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' science performance over the period 1994 to 2014. Although achievement in 2014 appears lower than in 2002, the difference is not significant. The overall mean mathematics score for New Zealand Year 9 students in 2014 was 513, significantly higher than the TIMSS Scale Centre point (500).
The spread of scores, from the 5th to the 95th percentiles, was similar to that in 1994 but wider than in 2002 and 2010. When compared with 2002, there were more low achievers in 2014.
Figure 1: Distribution of New Zealand Year 9 science achievement in TIMSS, 1994-2014
- Standard errors are presented in parentheses.
- 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 and 2011.
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.
Ten percent of New Zealand Year 9 students reached the advanced benchmark in 2014. Twelve percent of students did not reach the lowest TIMSS benchmark. In terms of the benchmark definitions, these were students who did not demonstrate some basic knowledge from the life and physical sciences.
There has been little variation in the proportions of students reaching the high and advanced benchmarks over time, as the changes have not been statistically significant. However, there were fewer students reaching the low and intermediate benchmarks in 2014 compared with 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 9 students reaching the TIMSS science benchmarks, 1994-2014
- Standard errors are presented in parentheses.
- "At or above" means that the proportion of students at the benchmark includes those that achieved at higher benchmarks also.
- 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, 2011 and 2014.
New Zealand Year 9 students' mean performance in science was significantly higher than 20 of the countries that also tested at the Year 9 level but was significantly lower than 14 countries including Singapore, England, and the United States. New Zealand's mean science achievement was not significantly different from that of students in four other countries, Lithuania, Australia, Norway and Israel.
Items in TIMSS at the Year 9 level were designed around four content areas of science: biology, chemistry, physics, 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 9 students performed relatively better on biology and Earth science questions and relatively worse on chemistry questions in 2014. science is necessary as society grapples with major challenges and opportunities that confront our world.
The average science achievement of students from Māori, Pasifika and Other ethnic groupings decreased significantly between 2002 and 2014, while there has been no change to the achievement of European/ Pākehā and Asian students in that period.
|535 (5.3)||487 (5.5)||471 (7.5)||539 (8.7)||523 (12.2)||520 (5.0)|
|529 (4.1)||473 (4.9)||453 (7.0)||529 (7.5)||512 (10.7)||512 (4.6)|
|531 (2.1)||469 (3.9)||449 (5.9)||528 (9.1)||474 (11.1)||513 (3.1)|
The mean science achievement of Year 9 girls and boys were similar in 2014. There has been no significant change in the mean achievement of boys since 2002. In contrast girls' achievement significantly increased between 2010 and 2014 to the similar level as in 2002. In terms of the content areas in TIMSS 2014, boys scored significantly higher than girls, on average, on chemistry, physics and Earth science, while girls scored higher on biology. Girls and boys achieved similar on the cognitive domains of knowing, applying and reasoning in science.
|1994||497 (5.6)||524 (6.1)||511 (4.9)|
|1998||506 (5.4)||513 (7.0)||510 (4.9)|
|2002||515 (4.8)||525 (6.7)||520 (5.0)|
|2010||501 (4.6)||522 (5.1)||512 (4.6)|
|2014||513 (3.2)||512 (4.3)||513 (3.1)|
The average mathematics achievement of students from higher decile schools (9 and 10) was higher (555) than those from low decile schools (1 and 2 – 438 scale score points). There were high-achieving students in all decile groupings with nine 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
Figure 3: Percentage of New Zealand Year 9 students in each decile grouping reaching the TIMSS
science benchmarks in 2014
- Caygill, R., Hanlar, V., & Singh, S. (2016). TIMSS 2015: New Zealand Year 9 Science Results. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
- Martin, M. O., Mullis, I. V. S., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. (2016). TIMSS 2015 International Results in Science. Boston College.
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: