TIMSS 2010/11: Year 9 Students' Science Achievement

Publication Details

This report describes the science achievement of Year 9 students in TIMSS 2010/11. Analyses of achievement by sub-groupings (such as gender and ethnicity) and background information are also presented and comparisons are made with New Zealand across cycles and also with other countries. Characteristics of teachers, including their preparedness to teach science, teaching activities that took place within science lessons, resources, and teacher attitudes and perceptions, as well as school management and climate, are also explored.

Author(s): Robyn Caygill, Sarah Kirkham and Nicola Marshall, Research Division, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: July 2013

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Key Findings

Achievement in an International Context

  • New Zealand Year 9 students had higher science achievement than 25 participating countries, similar to 6, and lower than 10 countries.
  • There has been no significant change in the mean science achievement of Year 9 students since the first cycle of TIMSS in 1994/95.
  • In the international context, the range of achievement within New Zealand was moderate. This is in contrast to the 15-year-old students assessed in PISA where New Zealand has one of the widest ranges of achievement.
  • There was a relatively high proportion of very low achievers (students who did not reach the low benchmark) in this cycle of TIMSS compared with countries with similar or higher mean science achievement.
  • New Zealand lower secondary students performed relatively better on Earth science questions and relatively worse on chemistry questions. The cognitive aspect of reasoning was a relative strength for Year 9 students while applying was a relative weakness.

Equity in the New Zealand System

  • Year 9 boys had higher science achievement, on average, than girls. Since the previous cycle of TIMSS (2002/03) there has been a significant decrease in achievement for Year 9 girls.
  • There were advanced achievers and very low achievers in all ethnic groupings. However, there were proportionately more Pākehā/European and Asian advanced achievers compared with the Pasifika and Māori ethnic groupings. There were more very low achievers among Pasifika and Māori groupings than among Pākehā/European and Asian groupings. There has been a significant decrease in mean achievement among Pasifika and Māori students since 2002/03.
  • Regardless of the measure used to assess socio-economic status (SES), students with lower SES had lower achievement than students with higher SES. In particular, on an international measure of the SES of the school attended, students in schools with a greater concentration of affluent students had higher achievement than students in schools with a greater concentration of disadvantaged students. On this measure New Zealand had one of the highest differences in achievement between these two groups.

Student Attitudes

  • Nearly all Year 9 students planned to get some form of qualification, some with expectations at the secondary level and some at tertiary.
  • Year 9 students in New Zealand were generally positive about learning science. Compared to other countries, on average, fewer New Zealand Year 9 students liked science, were confident in their ability to do science, and valued science.
  • Students who were more positive about learning science had, on average, higher achievement than those who were more negative. The self-confidence of students had a stronger relationship with science achievement than how much they liked or valued learning science.
  • Year 9 boys’ enjoyment, confidence and valuing of learning science were all higher than that of girls in New Zealand.
  • A greater proportion of Asian students reported liking and valuing science than any of the other ethnic groupings. Asian and Pākehā/European students were slightly more likely to report high levels of confidence in learning science than Pasifika or Māori students.


  • More New Zealand lower secondary science teachers felt well prepared to teach topics in science and expressed high levels of confidence in their ability to teach science compared with their peers in other countries.
  • New Zealand science teachers tended to place less emphasis on science investigations than their peers in other countries.
  • New Zealand science teachers tended to use textbooks more as a supplement rather than as a basis for instruction. In contrast, teachers in other countries were more likely to use textbooks as a basis for instruction.
  • New Zealand science classrooms were less likely to have computers available for instructional use compared with other countries.

School Climate for Learning

  • Year 9 students generally perceived their school to be a good place to be. More than eight out of ten students agreed that they felt like they belonged at school and were safe there. A higher proportion of girls than boys were positive about school and Pasifika and Asian students were the most positive of the ethnic groupings.
  • Fewer New Zealand Year 9 students liked being at school compared to the average student internationally.
  • Teachers and principals were generally very positive about their school climate for learning, including having a safe environment, knowledgeable staff, supportive parents, and well-behaved students. However, principals tended to be slightly less positive about the teaching staff and more positive about parental support than the teachers.
  • The proportion of New Zealand Year 9 students experiencing negative behaviours at school was similar to the average internationally. A higher proportion of boys than girls experienced these behaviours but no particular ethnic grouping experienced these negative behaviours more than would be expected based on their proportion of the population.
  • Teachers of Year 9 students indicated that there were several factors that presented at least some limitations to their teaching of science, particularly having disruptive or uninterested students.
  • More than half of the TIMSS Year 9 students had teachers who perceived various issues were at least a minor problem in their current school, particularly teachers having too many teaching hours or overcrowded classrooms. New Zealand teachers were relatively positive about their working conditions compared to most other TIMSS countries.
  • A lack of computers and computer software for science instruction were the resources most commonly seen by principals as having an impact on instruction.

School Leadership

  • Principals of New Zealand schools with Year 9 students in them were, on average, less likely than their international counterparts to report spending a lot of time on any leadership activity.


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