TIMSS 2014/15 in New Zealand

Publication Details

This flyer describes what TIMSS is, who takes part, what is assessed in TIMSS, and how the TIMSS results can be used.

Author(s): Robyn Caygill, Vafa Hanlar and Charlotte Harris-Miller, Comparative Education Research Unit, Ministry of Education

Date Published: November 2016


What is TIMSS?

  • The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is an international study designed to measure trends in mathematics and science achievement of school students at the fourth and eighth grades (Years 5 and 9), as well as monitor curricular implementation and identify the most effective instructional practices from around the world. It creates a knowledge base for the participating countries to make evidence-based decisions for improving education policy and practice.
  • The study is an initiative of the IEA – the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. It is managed by IEA's TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center based at Boston College, Lynch School of Education. IEA itself is headquartered in Amsterdam, and with a major data processing and research centre in Hamburg, has been conducting international comparative studies of student achievement since 1959.
  • TIMSS has been conducted every 4 years since 1994. New Zealand has been part of the study since the beginning. The Comparative Education Research Unit in the Ministry of Education is responsible for carrying out TIMSS in New Zealand.

Who takes part?

  • The TIMSS study involves students, teachers, schools (represented by school principals) and parents.
  • Participating schools and classes within each school were randomly selected.
  • More than 580,000 students from 57 countries and 7 benchmarking entities (regional jurisdictions of countries, such as states or provinces) around the world participated in the TIMSS 2014/15 study. Many countries participated in both grade levels. More than 312,000 students, 250,000 parents, 20,000 teachers, and 10,000 schools from 49 countries and 7 extra states or provinces participated at the middle primary level, and 270,000 students, 31,000 teachers, and 8,000 schools from 39 countries and 7 extra states or provinces participated at the lower secondary level.
  • In New Zealand, 6,321 students, 460 teachers and 3,424 parents from 167 schools took part in the study at the Year 5 level, and 8,101 students and 865 teachers from 137 schools participated at the Year 9 level in October and November 2014.

What does TIMSS 2014/15 assess?

  • TIMSS consists of assessments of students' achievements in mathematics and science, along with questionnaires for students, their teachers, and principals to gather background information.
  • Assessment of students' achievements in mathematics and science include two key dimensions – a content dimension which specifies the subject matter to be assessed, and a cognitive dimension which specifies the thinking processes to be assessed.
  • Background questionnaires gather information about curriculum, student demographics, student attitudes, school climate and resources, instructional practices and support at home. This provides a context within which the achievement is examined, to help better understand the results.
  • The TIMSS assessments were developed cooperatively with representatives from participating countries. Questions were field-tested with a representative sample of students in participating countries, and the results generated were used to select and refine the questions for the final test. Questions for the background questionnaires underwent a similar process.

What can TIMSS tell us?

  • TIMSS looks at the different contextual factors that contribute to student achievement over time, including aspects of family background, the school environment, what happens in the classroom, and students' own attitudes, experiences and perceptions.
  • TIMSS assesses students who have completed the Year 5 or Year 9 level of compulsory schooling. It is a snapshot of student achievement, and does not measure individual student progress over time.
  • However, it monitors overall student performance so that we can observe whether achievement is improving, remaining stable, or declining over time. This allows us to monitor progress towards education goals such as raising achievement and reducing inequity.
  • TIMSS also allows us to examine New Zealand's performance relative to the rest of the world, and learn from the experiences of other countries.

How can TIMSS results be used?

Although TIMSS is useful for international benchmarking purposes, the real value of TIMSS lies in its ability to provide a rich picture of mathematics and science achievement within the New Zealand context, and over time. The information from studies such as TIMSS has been used:

  • in the development and review of policy frameworks;
  • to inform and improve teaching practice;
  • as an impetus for the development of resource materials for schools and teachers, along with teacher in-service training programmes.

Some of the ways other governments and ministries use TIMSS results include:

  • measuring the effectiveness of their educational systems in a global context;
  • identifying gaps in learning resources and opportunities;
  • pinpointing any areas of weakness and stimulating or aiding curriculum reform;
  • measuring the impact of new educational initiatives;
  • training researchers and teachers in assessment and evaluation.

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