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 250,000 students from 39 countries and 7 benchmarking participants took part in the assessment at the Grade 8 level. In Canada, over 8,700 Grade 8 students from 276 schools in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador participated. School systems in 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 78 per cent for Canada, which meets 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. Internationally, 62 per cent of students reached at least the intermediate benchmark, with a higher proportion in Canada (78 per cent). Only 5 countries had a higher proportion of students reaching this level: Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Hong Kong SAR, and Japan.

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

Chart 1 Distribution of Grade 8 students by proficiency level in mathematics

The Canadian average scale score in mathematics was 527, above the international centerpoint. In addition to the five countries mentioned above, only the Russian Federation showed a statistically significant higher average score. Overall, three countries achieved a score statistically equivalent to Canada, and 29 countries scored significantly lower than Canada. Canadian boys achieved significantly higher results than girls in mathematics (530 vs. 525). Internationally, girls achieved higher results than boys in seven countries while the opposite was true in six countries, including Canada. Canadian results by language indicate that students who responded to the test in French achieved significantly higher results than those who responded in English (544 vs. 519 points, respectively).

Science

With reference to the four benchmark levels described above, 78 per cent of Canadian Grade 8 students reached the intermediate level in science, which is a higher proportion than the international median of 64 per cent (chart 2).

Chart 2 Distribution of Grade 8 students by proficiency level in science  

The Canadian average scale score in science (526 points) was statistically higher than the international centerpoint of 500. Overall, eight countries achieved a higher average score in science compared with Canada, five countries achieved a statistically equivalent score, while 25 countries scored significantly lower than Canada. In Canada, there was no statistical difference between boys and girls in science achievement at the Grade 8 level (529 vs. 524, respectively). Internationally, more countries (14) showed significantly higher results for girls than for boys (5), whereas there was no gender difference in science in the other participating countries. Students who responded in English or in French achieved statistically comparable results in science at the Grade 8 level (525 vs. 529, 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 8 students are presented below for illustrative purposes.

A Teacher Questionnaire was completed by the Grade 8 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.

Grade 8 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, 69 per cent of principals in schools with Grade 8 students indicated that their school had a science laboratory that could be used by students. This is lower than the international average of 85 per cent. On average, Canadian schools where principals responded that their Grade 8 students had a laboratory that could be used by students had an average science score of 532 compared to 516 for schools with no laboratory.
  • In Canada, the issue of intimidation and verbal abuse among students was perceived as a moderate or serious issue by over two out of ten principals at Grade 8.
  • At the Grade 8 level, 15 per cent of principals in Canadian schools indicated that they provide free breakfast to all students in their school. This is substantially higher than the international average of 8 per cent.

Classroom-related characteristics

  • Approximately 8 per cent of mathematics and science Grade 8 teachers visit often or very often another classroom to learn more about teaching. This is far less than the international average of 30 per cent.
  • Over 60 per cent of Grade 8 mathematics and science teachers agree a lot with the statement that that they need more time to assist individual students.
  • Only 9 per cent of mathematics teachers and 11 per cent of science teachers ask students to memorize facts and principles every lesson or almost every lesson. The international average is over 30 per cent in both subject areas. Generally, Canadian students in these classrooms perform less well in science but not in mathematics.
  • In both mathematics and science, one in ten Canadian teachers asks students to take a written test of quiz about half the lessons or more. Internationally, this practice is followed by about four out of ten teachers.
  • In Canada, virtually all Grade 8 mathematics teachers allow students to use calculators (with or without some restrictions). Internationally, 20 per cent of teachers do not allow the use of calculators.
  • In Canada, only 11 per cent of mathematics teachers and 15 per cent of science teachers always or almost always use homework to contribute towards students' grades. This is much less than the international averages of 35 and 38 per cent respectively.

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 8 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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