Science Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 4: Students’ Backgrounds and Attitudes Towards Science

How Do Students Perceive Their Ability in the Sciences?

To investigate how students think of their abilities in science, TIMSS created an index of students’ self-concept in the sciences (SCS). It is based on student’s responses to four statements about their science ability:

I would like science much more if it were not so difficult.

Although I do my best, science is more difficult for me than for many of my classmates

Nobody can be good in every subject, and I am just not talented
in science

Science is not one of my strengths.

In countries where the sciences are taught as separate subjects, students were asked about each subject separately.

Students who disagreed or strongly disagreed with all four statements were assigned to the high level of the index, while students who agreed or strongly agreed with all four were assigned to the low level. The medium level includes all other combinations of responses. (As an example of one of the components of the index, Exhibit R1.11 in the reference section shows the percentages of agreement for the statement “science is not one of my strengths.”)

The percentages of eighth-grade students at each index level, and their average science achievement, are presented in Exhibit 4.8. This four-page display summarizes the data in one panel for the countries that teach science as a single subject (including all the Benchmarking participants), and in separate panels for earth science, biology, physics, and chemistry for countries that teach the sciences separately. Among all the single-science countries, the United States had the greatest percentage of students at the high level of the self-concept index: 45 percent compared with 26 percent on average across all countries. Several of the Benchmarking participants had even greater percentages at the high level, notably the First in the World Consortium and North Carolina, with more than 50 percent of students at this level.

Although there was a clear positive association between self-concept and science achievement within every country and within every Benchmarking jurisdiction, the relationship across entities was more complex. Several countries with high average science achievement, including Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, and Korea, had relatively low percentages of students (21 percent or less) in the high self-concept category. Since all of these are Asian Pacific countries, they may share cultural traditions that encourage a modest self-concept.

In countries teaching the sciences as separate subjects, the percentage of students at the high level of the science self-concept index was greatest for biology and earth science, with more than 40 percent of students in the high category on average. The percentage was lower for physics (32 percent on average) and chemistry (28 percent). Generally, countries with high percentages of students in the high category for one subject had high percentages in the other subjects also. The largest percentages of students in the high category were in the Russian Federation and the Netherlands(4) in all subjects. The positive association between science self-concept and science achievement that was found for science as a single subject was also evident in each of the science subject areas.

Results of analyses of the TIMSS 1995 data by gender(5) reveal not only that boys outperformed girls in science at the eighth grade in many countries, but that they attached more importance to doing well in science and mathematics than in language, and to doing well in science in order to get a good job. Not surprisingly, therefore, many countries, including the United States, showed differences in science self-concept between girls and boys. Exhibit 4.9 presents the percentages of girls and boys in the Benchmarking entities and in the reference countries at the high, medium, and low levels of the science self-concept index. Despite the gender differences in the United States as a whole, there were few significant differences among Benchmarking participants. There were greater percentages of boys at the high index level in Massachusetts, Missouri, Naperville, and the Southwest Pennsylvania Math and Science Collaborative. Naperville had a greater percentage of girls at the low level. Greater percentages of girls at the medium level were found in Massachusetts, Oregon, and Rochester.

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4 Physics and chemistry are taught as one subject in the Netherlands. Student responses are reported in the physics panel of Exhibit 4.8.
5 Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Fierros, E.G., Goldberg, A.L., and Stemler, S.E. (2000), Gender Differences in Achievement: IEA’s Third International Mathematics and Science Study, Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.

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TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking is a project of the International Study Center
Boston College, Lynch School of Education