Science Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 4: Students’ Backgrounds and Attitudes Towards Science

What Are Students’ Attitudes Towards the Sciences?

Generating positive attitudes towards science among students is an
important goal of science education in many jurisdictions. To gain some understanding of eighth-graders’ views about the utility of science and their enjoyment of it as a school subject, TIMSS created an index of positive attitudes towards the sciences (PATS). Students were asked to state their agreement with the following five statements:

I like science

I enjoy learning science

Science is boring (6)

Science is important to everyone’s life

I would like a job that involved using science.

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

For each statement, students responded on a four-point scale indicating whether their feelings about science were strongly positive, positive, negative, or strongly negative. The responses were averaged, with students being placed in the high category if their average indicated a positive or strongly positive attitude. Students with a negative or strongly negative attitude on average were placed in the low category. The students between these extremes were placed in the medium category. The results are presented in Exhibit 4.10 in a four-page display, in a single panel for the countries that teach science as a single subject (this panel includes the Benchmarking participants) and in separate panels for earth science, biology, physics, and chemistry for countries that teach the sciences separately. (Additional information on students’ liking science, one of the components of the index, is provided in Exhibit R1.12 in the reference section.)

In countries where science is taught as a single subject, students generally had positive attitudes towards the sciences, with 40 percent on average across all TIMSS 1999 countries in the high category and a further 49 percent in the medium category. Only 10 percent of students were in the low category. Percentages for the United States did not vary much from the international averages. Benchmarking jurisdictions with large percentages of students at the high level included the Rochester City School District and North Carolina (40 percent). Jurisdictions with somewhat less favorable attitudes included Idaho, the Delaware Science Coalition, Massachusetts, the Fremont/Lincoln/Westside Public Schools, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and the Chicago Public Schools, where less than 30 percent of the students were at the high level. The comparison countries with the least positive attitudes were Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea. Since these are all countries with high average science achievement, it may be that the students follow a demanding science curriculum that leads to high achievement but little enthusiasm for the subject matter. However, there was a clear positive association between attitudes towards the sciences and science achievement on average across all the TIMSS 1999 countries and in many of the Benchmarking entities.

Attitudes towards the science subject areas were somewhat less positive among the separate-science countries. The most positive were towards biology (32 percent in the high category, on average) and earth science (27 percent), and the least positive towards physics and chemistry (19 and 23 percent, respectively). Among the four separate-science comparison countries, the Russian Federation and the Czech Republic had the greatest percentage of students at the high level in all of the subject areas. The relationship between positive attitudes and science achievement was not as clear for the separate-science subject areas as it was for science as a single subject. In physics and chemistry, students at the high level of the index had substantially higher average achievement than students at the medium and low levels on average across all the TIMSS 1999 countries, but this was not the case for earth science and biology.

Exhibit 4.11 shows the percentages of girls and boys in each of the comparison countries and Benchmarking jurisdictions at each level of the index of positive attitudes towards the sciences. Although the United States, like many of the other countries, had significantly different percentages of girls and boys at the index levels, there were few significant differences among the Benchmarking participants. North Carolina was the only state to show a difference, with a greater percentage of boys at the high level and of girls at the medium level. The Delaware Science Coalition and Naperville had greater percentages of boys at the high level. For the separate-science countries on average, there were significantly greater percentages of boys than girls at the high level of the index in earth science, physics, and chemistry, but a larger percentage of girls in biology.

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6 The response categories for this statement were reversed in constructing the index.

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