Statement by Dr. Tjeerd Plomp


February 24, 1998


On Release of Third International Mathematics and Science Study Results

Today, IEA is releasing the latest achievement results of our Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The release today for students in their final year of secondary school follows the release of the TIMSS achievement results of the seventh- and eighth-grade students on November 20, 1996, and of third- and fourth-grade students last summer on June 10, 1997. Those results have been presented at national press conferences in more than 25 countries and received prominent attention in the media in all participating countries.

Those of you who have followed the reactions to the press coverage of the earlier results know that TIMSS has attracted the attention of policy makers and educators around the world. For example, the U.S. Department of Education is now sponsoring a repeat of TIMSS at the eighth grade in 1999 so that the United States and other participating countries can monitor educational progress and compare their results with those of the international community. In other countries, too, the TIMSS results have evoked much discussion about the quality of mathematics and science education. Without a doubt we can expect the TIMSS results to influence the policies and practices related to the teaching of mathematics and science around the world. The results for students in their final year of secondary school, which will be released this morning, will be a further catalyst for this.

TIMSS is a genuine international endeavor in which countries from all regions of the world came together to study the teaching and learning of mathematics and science.

With 45 countries participating, five grades assessed in two school subjects, and more than half a million students tested in more than 30 languages, TIMSS is the largest and most ambitious study of comparative educational achievement ever undertaken.

Individuals in research centers throughout the world have been working towards this day for more than six years. TIMSS has taken such effort because of its many different components:

Taking into account all of its components, including curriculum and achievement results, TIMSS provides ample opportunity for countries to examine the content and rigor of what is being taught and learned in science and mathematics classrooms. This will be a difficult and challenging task. Let me illustrate this with an example from my own country, the Netherlands. At the middle school level, both the Netherlands and the Czech Republic scored high above the international average on the written tests for both mathematics and science, but only close to the international average on the performance tasks. If one values highly the capability of pupils to solve problems and perform practical tasks, then the satisfaction in these two countries about their high test scores should not overshadow the concerns they may have with their average results on the performance tasks.

The TIMSS database is available on CD-ROM and on the TIMSS website. It is accompanied by a User Guide containing full documentation. The TIMSS database provides a unique opportunity for researchers to investigate similarities and differences in mathematics and science education across countries and to examine many instructional and policy issues in an international context.

Staff from the TIMSS International Study Center will highlight some of the achievement results for the final-year students. Through its previous mathematics and science studies, IEA has developed a deep appreciation of the difficulties and complexities in assessing achievement at the end of secondary school. The TIMSS testing of the final-year students represents a significant step forward in describing the achievement of students in this population. Through its dual strategy of assessing the mathematics and science literacy of all students, and the advanced mathematics and physics achievement of students with preparation in these subjects, TIMSS provides a comprehensive perspective.

The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) is proud to be the sponsor of TIMSS. The IEA is an independent international cooperative of research centers. It is made up of 53 educational systems, represented by research institutions or governmental research agencies.

Our aim is to conduct comparative studies that focus on educational policies and practices so as to enhance learning within and across systems of education. Since its inception in 1959, the IEA has conducted more than 15 studies of cross-national achievement. We are committed to a cycle of studies of learning in the basic school subjects of mathematics, science and reading, and to additional studies that may be of particular interest to policy makers, educational practitioners, and of course our members.

IEA studies of international assessment provide information about a wide variety of education policies, programs and practices across different countries and cultures. This information helps our members to understand better the advantages and shortfalls of their own educational systems. TIMSS is providing policy makers and educational practitioners with high-quality indicators of how well their education systems are functioning in comparison with others.

Indicators for achievement in mathematics and the sciences are interesting in and of themselves, but providing evidence that the students in 'my' country are doing better or worse than a competitor in the 'global market' does little to explain how such differences arise. Such differences can have many possible causes, including differences in the content of the curriculum, tracking or streaming practices, classroom time on task, amount of homework, class size, and so forth. To provide policy makers with a better understanding of the complex interplay among such factors and the most promising avenues to effective teaching and learning, we need further in-depth analyses of the extremely rich TIMSS database.

TIMSS also is unique in the widespread global collaboration that made the study possible. The scale of TIMSS demanded the development of innovative, state-of-the-art applications in sampling, scaling, analysis, and reporting techniques. To accomplish a task of this magnitude, the International Study Center here at Boston College coordinates a network of expert methodologists from around the world that works in conjunction with the national centers to bring each step of TIMSS to fruition. That we are here today is a tribute to all concerned.

It is also a testimony to the countries that had the foresight to embark on this remarkable endeavor, each one committing the resources necessary to conduct TIMSS in their own country. IEA is deeply indebted to the thousands of principals, teachers, and students who gave so generously of their time to participate in TIMSS. The overall coordination of a project as complex as TIMSS, initially by the University of British Columbia and for the past four years by Boston College, requires substantial financial support. As chairman of IEA, I want to express my great appreciation to the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and Government of Canada for funding the international coordination costs. In conclusion, I want especially to congratulate Drs. Albert Beaton, Michael Martin, and Ina Mullis as well as the staff members at this center for their extraordinary efforts and dedication in directing the TIMSS project.


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