PRESS RELEASE June 10, 1997
Largest International Study of Student Achievement Ever
Countries' Rankings for 3rd and 4th Grades to be Released
CHESTNUT HILL, MA (6-10-97) -- Singapore and Korea were the top-performing countries in mathematics at both the third and fourth grades according to the most recent major reports of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), released today by a team of researchers at Boston College. In science, Korea ranked number one at both grades.
Other high-performing countries in mathematics included Japan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Austria. Japan, the United States, Austria, and Australia were among the top countries in science. (See full list of country results on page 4.)
TIMSS is the largest international study of student achievement ever undertaken, including more than 40 countries and half a million students at five grade levels. The results released today for 26 countries at the third and fourth grades complement those released last November for 41 countries at the seventh and eighth grades.
"The high ranking countries at the fourth grade are not always those that did best at the eighth grade," said TIMSS International Study Director Albert Beaton, a professor in Boston College's School of Education.
According to the reports, 9 of the 12 countries that performed above the international average in mathematics at the fourth grade also did so at the eighth grade, including Singapore, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, and Hungary. Of the other three, Ireland and Australia were around the international average at the eighth grade, while the United States was below it.
In science, Korea, Japan, Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic, England, Singapore, and Slovenia performed above the international average at the fourth and eighth grades. Canada, Ireland, Scotland, and the United States were above average at the fourth grade, but just at the average at the eighth grade.
Other key findings include:
Just as at the eighth grade, having educational resources in the home was strongly related to student mathematics and science achievement in every country (e.g., computer, own study desk, 100 or more books).
Gender differences in mathematics achievement were small or essentially non-existent in most countries. In science, the gender differences were much less pervasive than at the seventh and eighth grades. However, in about half the countries boys had substantially higher science achievement than girls at both the third and fourth grades.
The overwhelming majority of fourth graders in nearly every country indicated that they liked mathematics and science. In most countries, boys and girls were equally positive about liking each of these subjects.
Almost universally, fourth graders spend more time learning mathematics than science. According to teachers, mathematics classes typically meet for three or four hours a week, but in about half the countries science is taught for less than two hours a week. Students reported studying mathematics for about an hour outside of school each day, and studying science for between half an hour to an hour.
Despite the current educational reform emphasis on innovative strategies for improving instruction, the TIMSS researchers found that traditional approaches tend to prevail in classrooms around the world. Across countries, teachers reported that teaching the whole class or having students work individually with their assistance were the most frequently used instructional approaches.
"In both mathematics and science, small group work is used infrequently," said TIMSS International Deputy Study Director Michael Martin. "Also, the textbook remains the major source teachers use in presenting topics to their students."
"Perhaps the similarities in instructional approaches around the world are partially because teachers face the same obstacles in their classrooms," added Co-Deputy Study Director Ina Mullis. "Teachers uniformly cited having students with different academic abilities in their classes, high student/teacher ratios, equipment shortages, and disruptive students as the primary factors limiting their ability to provide high-quality instruction."
TIMSS is sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), an independent international cooperative of research centers headquartered in Amsterdam. IEA Chairman Tjeerd Plomp said that each new wave of TIMSS data will further our understanding of effective education.
"Taking into account all of its components, including curriculum and achievement in primary and middle schools," said Plomp, "TIMSS provides ample opportunity for countries to examine the content and rigor of what is being taught and learned in science and mathematics classrooms. The results for secondary school students will help complete the picture." TIMSS achievement results for secondary school students will be released in February 1998.
The reports released today present internationally comparative achievement results for third and fourth graders in two companion volumes: Mathematics Achievement in the Primary School Years and Science Achievement in the Primary School Years.
International coordination for TIMSS is funded by the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the Candian Government. Each country provides its own funding for the national implementation of TIMSS.
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