Mathematics Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 2: Performance at International Benchmarks

Achievement at the Upper Quarter Benchmark

Exhibit 2.6 describes performance at the Upper Quarter Benchmark. Eighth-grade students performing at this level applied their mathematical knowledge and understandings in a wide variety of relatively complex problem situations. For example, they demonstrated facility with fractions in various formats, as illustrated by Example Item 5 shown in Exhibit 2.7. This item required students to shade squares in a rectangular grid to represent a given fraction. Since the grid is divided into squares that are a multiple of the fraction’s denominator, more than one step is required to solve the problem. Internationally, about half the students (49 percent on average) were able to shade in nine of the 24 squares to represent 3/8 of the region. Eighty percent or more of the students in Singapore, Hong Kong, Belgium (Flemish), Korea, and Chinese Taipei answered the question correctly. No Benchmarking entities performed that well, but students in the First in World Consortium, Naperville, the Michigan Invitational Group, and Massachusetts performed significantly above the international average.

Example Item 6 is a proportional reasoning word problem that students at the Upper Quarter Benchmark typically answered correctly (see Exhibit 2.8). Given the number of magazines sold by each of two boys and the total amount of money made from the sales, students were to calculate how much money one of the boys made by selling his 80 magazines. On average, 44 percent of students internationally answered this question correctly. In Singapore and Chinese Taipei at least three-quarters of the students answered correctly. No Benchmarking participant performed significantly above the international average, and students in Maryland, the Michigan Invitational Group, the Chicago Public Schools, the Rochester City School District, and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools performed significantly below the international average.

Students reaching the Upper Quarter Benchmark generally were able to apply knowledge of geometric properties. In Example Item 7 in Exhibit 2.9, students needed to use their knowledge of the properties of parallelograms and rectangles to solve for the area of the rectangle (dimensions not labeled) that was part of a different figure with given dimensions. Three-quarters or more of the students in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, and Chinese Taipei answered the item correctly. Internationally, however, less than half the eighth-grade students (43 percent on average) did so. The United States performed significantly below the international average, as did eight of the Benchmarking entities: North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, the Delaware Science Coalition, and the public school systems in Jersey City, Chicago, Miami-Dade, and Rochester.

Example Item 8 shown in Exhibit 2.10 asks students for the number of triangles of a given dimension needed to cover a rectangle of given dimensions. The international average on this item was 46 percent correct. Many students (approximately 29 percent internationally) incorrectly chose Option A, which is half the number of required triangles needed to fill the rectangle but just enough to cover the perimeter. Japanese students had the highest performance on this item, with 80 percent answering correctly. About two-thirds or more of the students in Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Belgium (Flemish), and the Netherlands answered the item correctly. Performance among the Benchmarking participants ranged from 62 percent correct responses in Naperville to 30 percent in Miami-Dade. The United States as a whole performed at about the international average, and most of the Benchmarking jurisdictions performed similarly.

Unlike students at lower benchmarks, those reaching the Upper Quarter Benchmark typically could solve simple linear equations. As illustrated by Example Item 9 in Exhibit 2.11, for example, students successfully solved for the value of x in a linear equation involving the variable on both sides of the equation. Eighty percent or more of the students in Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea answered this item correctly. Even though the United States did relatively well in algebra (see Chapter 3), this problem posed difficulties for students in the Benchmarking entities. Naperville (72 percent) and First in the World (61 percent) were the only Benchmarking participants that performed significantly above the international average of 44 percent correct responses. The United States performed below average (34 percent) on this question, as did students in 11 of the Benchmarking entities.

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