Introduction

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is an international assessment that measures trends in mathematics and science achievement at the Grade 4 and Grade 8/Secondary II levels. It is conducted under the auspices of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

TIMSS has been carried out every four years since 1995. Canada participated in TIMSS in 1995 and 1999. In 2003, 2007, and 2011, only individual provinces participated in the study, so no pan-Canadian results could be reported. TIMSS 2015 marks the sixth TIMSS assessment cycle, and over 330,000 students from 49 countries took part in the assessment at the Grade 4 level. In Canada, over 12,000 Grade 4 students from over 440 schools in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador participated. School systems in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec were oversampled to enable the reporting of separate jurisdictional results. However, care must be taken in interpreting these Canadian results, as they are representative only of those participating Canadian provinces. Overall, the weighted participation rate was 80 per cent for Canada, thus complying with the international guidelines after replacement schools were included.[1]

Main results

Mathematics

TIMSS reports achievement using four points along a scale of international benchmarks: advanced (625 points), high (550 points), intermediate (475 points), and low (400). The low benchmark represents a basic level of achievement, while the advanced benchmark represents successful completion of the most complex and challenging tasks in the TIMSS assessment. The international TIMSS scale centerpoint is fixed at 500. In mathematics, over 90 per cent of Canadian students reached at least the basic (low) level of achievement. Sixty-nine per cent reached at least the intermediate level, compared to 75 per cent internationally.

Chart 1 presents the proportion of students at each of the four proficiency levels in mathematics.

Chart 1 Distribution of Grade 4 students by proficiency level in mathematics

 

The Canadian average scale score in mathematics was 511, slightly above the international centerpoint. Five Asian countries (Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Japan) scored above 590 points. Overall, 26 countries scored significantly higher than the Canadian average, four countries achieved a score statistically equivalent to that of Canada, and 18 countries scored significantly lower than Canada. Canadian boys achieved significantly higher results than girls in mathematics (515 vs. 506). Internationally, most countries showed smaller gender differences. Canadian results by language indicate that students who responded to the test in French achieved significantly higher results than those who responded in English (527 vs. 504 points, respectively).

Science

In science, more than 90 per cent of Canadian students also reached at least the basic (low) level of achievement, and 77 per cent reached at least the intermediate level—a proportion that was the same as that achieved internationally. Among provinces, Ontario had the most students (79 per cent) reaching the intermediate level, while Alberta (73 per cent) had the fewest (Chart 2).

Chart 2 Distribution of Grade 4 students by proficiency level in science 

The Canadian average scale score in science (525 points) was statistically higher than the international centerpoint of 500. Overall, 17 countries achieved a higher average score in science compared with Canada, 10 countries achieved a statistically equivalent score, while 19 countries scored significantly lower than Canada. In Canada, there was no statistical difference between boys and girls in science achievement at the Grade 4 level (524 vs. 526, respectively). Internationally, 11 countries showed significantly higher results for girls than for boys, whereas results were higher for boys in as many countries. Students who responded in English achieved a higher average score in science than students who responded in French at the Grade 4 level (528 vs. 516, respectively).

Data obtained through questionnaires

A School Questionnaire was completed by principals or their designates in schools that participated in TIMSS 2015. Although the questionnaire covers many relevant areas related to the school environment, only select results related to schools with Grade 4 students are presented below for illustrative purposes.

A Teacher Questionnaire was completed by the Grade 4 teachers from the selected classrooms. It covered topics applicable to both mathematics and science teachers and related to the classroom context and subject-specific topics such as the coverage of the mathematics and science curricula.

The Early Learning Survey (Home Questionnaire) was completed by parents or guardians of participating Grade 4 students. It asked about a number of factors influencing learning in the home environment, such as home resources or parental attitudes and expectations.

Grade 4 students participating in TIMSS 2015 also completed a Student Questionnaire.

Together, these questionnaires provided the information and insights presented below.

School-related characteristics

  • Across Canada, 11 per cent of principals in schools with Grade 4 students indicated that their school had a science laboratory that could be used by students. This is substantially lower than the international average of 38 per cent.
  • In Canada, about 17 per cent of Grade 4 students revealed that they experienced some bullying behaviours at least once a week. This is close to the international average of 15 per cent.
  • About 13 per cent of Canadian principals in schools with Grade 4 students indicated that they provide free breakfast to all students in their school. This is substantially higher than the international average of 5 per cent.

Classroom-related characteristics

  • According to principals and teachers in Grade 4 schools, Canadian students spend more time in mathematics instruction than the international average (196 hours vs. 157 hours per year). The difference is far less notable in science, with 81 hours in Canada and 76 hours as the international average.
  • One-third of Canadian Grade 4 students claimed to be very confident in mathematics. This is equivalent to the international average (33 per cent vs. 32 per cent internationally). The situation was similar in science, with 39 per cent of Canadian Grade 4 students claiming to be very confident in science, as compared with the international average of 40 per cent.
  • The proportion of Grade 4 teachers with a master's or doctorate degree is much lower in Canada than the international average (15 vs. over 25 per cent).

Home-related characteristics

  • In Canada, 32 per cent of parents or guardians of Grade 4 students reported having many home resources for learning. This is significantly higher than the international average of 17 per cent. However, the relationship between having many or some home resources for learning and achievement in mathematics and in science is weaker in Canada than the international average.
  • Across Canada, 55 per cent of parents or guardians of Grade 4 students reported often spending time with their children doing a number of early numeracy and literacy activities before they began school. This is higher than the international average of 44 per cent.

Conclusion

The aim of TIMSS is to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics and science around the world. Every four years, it provides internationally comparable, rigorous, and reliable data about student achievement and learning contexts. In 2015, Canadian Grade 4 students showed higher performance levels in mathematics and science, in both absolute and relative terms, than the international average.

The next TIMSS assessment is scheduled for 2019. 


[1] Further information on participation rates can be obtained in Appendix C of the TIMSS 2015 International Report available at http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/index.html

 
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