© 2001 International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA)
To provide an educational context for interpreting the achievement results of the Benchmarking participants, TIMSS collected detailed information from students about their home backgrounds, how they spend their time, and their attitudes towards mathematics. This chapter presents eighth-grade students responses to a subset of these questions. One set addresses home resources and support for academic achievement. Another examines how much out-of-school time students spend on their schoolwork. A third addresses students self-concept in mathematics and their feelings towards mathematics.
In an effort to summarize this information concisely and focus attention on educationally relevant support and practice, TIMSS sometimes has combined information from individual questions to form an index that was more global and reliable than the component questions (e.g., home educational resources). According to their responses, students were placed in a high, medium, or low category. Cutoff points were established so that the high level of an index corresponds to conditions or activities generally associated with good educational practice and high academic achievement. For each index, the percentages of students in each category are presented in relation to their mathematics achievement. The data from the component questions and more detail about some areas are provided in the reference section of this report (see reference section R1).
What Educational Resources Do Students Have in Their Homes?
There is no shortage of evidence that students from homes with extensive educational resources have higher achievement in mathematics and other subjects than those from less advantaged backgrounds. TIMSS in 1995 showed that this was true of students from homes with large numbers of books, with a range of educational study aids, or with parents with university-level education.(1) The TIMSS 1999 international report presented combined student responses to these three variables in an index of home educational resources (HER) that was clearly related to achievement in mathematics.(2)
Exhibit 4.1 summarizes the home educational resources index in a two-page display. The index is described on the first page. Students at the high level of this index reported coming from homes with more than 100 books, with all three study aids (a computer, a study desk or table for the students own use, and a dictionary), and where at least one parent finished university. Students at the low level had 25 or fewer books in the home, not all three study aids, and parents that had not completed secondary education. The remaining students were assigned to the medium level.
The first page of the display also presents the percentage of students at each level of the index for each Benchmarking participant and for selected reference countries, together with the average mathematics achievement for those students. Standard errors are also shown. Entities are ordered by the percentage of students at the high index level. The international average across all TIMSS 1999 countries is shown at the bottom. The second page of the display graphically shows the percentage of students at the high index level for each entity. There was a substantial difference in the average mathematics achievement of students at the index levels in every entity for which data were available. This is reflected in the international average for the TIMSS 1999 countries, where the achievement difference between students at the high level (559) and the low level (431) amounted to 128 score points.
Relative to other countries, the United States had a large percentage of students at the high level of the home educational resources index (22 percent). Of the TIMSS 1999 countries included in Exhibit 4.1, only Canada had a comparable percentage of students at the high level (27 percent). The relatively high standing of the United States on this index was reflected in the results for the Benchmarking jurisdictions, most of which had larger percentages of students in the high category of home educational resources than did most of the comparison countries.
The Benchmarking participants with the greatest percentages of students at the high level included the Naperville School District (56 percent), the First in the World Consortium (45 percent), the Academy School District (44 percent), and Montgomery County (39 percent). Together with the Michigan Invitational Group (29 percent), these were also among the top-performing jurisdictions in mathematics. The four urban Benchmarking school districts that had the lowest student achievement in mathematics the Jersey City Public Schools, the Chicago Public Schools, the Rochester City School District, and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools also had the lowest percentages of students at the high level of the home educational resources index (only 7 to 10 percent).
Since the association between home educational resources and mathematics achievement is well documented in TIMSS and in extensive educational research, low average student achievement in the less wealthy areas most likely reflects the low level of educational resources in students homes. These effects can be found even when children begin school. For example, kindergartners whose mothers have higher levels of education are more likely to be able pass through four levels of mathematics proficiency that involve such tasks as reading numerals, counting, and sequencing numbers. Similarly, first-time kindergartners whose families have not received or are not receiving welfare services are more likely than kindergartners from families receiving welfare to pass through the mathematics proficiency levels.(3)
However, since there is far from a one-to-one correspondence between high performance and home resources, clearly other influences are also at work. For example, Chinese Taipei had about the same percentage of students (eight percent) at the high index level as Rochester, Chicago, Jersey City, and Miami-Dade, but the average mathematics achievement of its students at that level was considerably higher. In fact, the international average for all 38 TIMSS 1999 countries was just nine percent. There is also evidence that financial resources alone will not result in high academic achievement. According to OECD analyses for 1994, U.S. schools ranked third highest among 22 countries in per-student expenditures on primary schools and third highest among 23 countries on secondary schools.(4)
Exhibits R1.1 through R1.3 in the reference section present more detailed information on the student responses that were combined in the home educational resources index. Exhibit R1.1 shows the percentage of eighth-grade students in each of the Benchmarking jurisdictions and comparison countries who had a dictionary, study desk or table, or computer, and shows that students reporting having all three had higher average mathematics achievement than those without all three.
Exhibit R1.2 shows for each entity the percentage of students at each of five ranges of numbers of books in the home in relation to average mathematics achievement. In most jurisdictions, the more books students reported in the home, the higher their mathematics achievement.
The percentages of students in each of five categories of parents educational level are shown in Exhibit R1.3, together with their average mathematics achievement. Although countries did their best to use educational categories that were comparable across all countries, the range of educational provision made this difficult. About half of the participating countries had to modify the response options presented to students in the questionnaire in order to conform to their national education system. Exhibit R1.4 provides details of how these modifications were aligned with the categories of parents education used in this report. Despite the different educational approaches, structures, and organizations across the TIMSS 1999 countries, it is clear that parents education is positively related to students mathematics achievement. The pattern across countries was that eighth-grade students whose parents had more education were also those who had higher achievement in mathematics. The same was true for nearly all Benchmarking jurisdictions.
As information technology and the Internet become more and more important as an educational resource, those who do not have access to this technology will be increasingly at a disadvantage. To provide information about this digital divide, Exhibit 4.2 presents the percentage of students in each entity that reported having a computer at home, together with their average mathematics achievement. Compared with some of the reference countries as well as the international average (45 percent), students in the Benchmarking jurisdictions reported relatively high levels of computer ownership; more than 70 percent of students in each state reported having a computer at home. In the wealthier districts and consortia such as the Academy School District, the First in the World Consortium, Montgomery County, and the Naperville School District, more than 90 percent of students so reported. Even in the less advantaged public school districts, more than half the students reported having a computer at home. In almost every entity, students with a computer at home had higher average mathematics achievement than those without.
Students who speak a language (or languages) in the home that is different from the language spoken in school sometimes benefit from being multilingual. However, when they are still developing proficiency in the language of instruction they can be at a disadvantage in learning situations. Exhibit 4.3 contains students reports of how frequently they speak the language of the TIMSS test at home in relation to their average mathematics achievement. Students from homes where the language of the test is always or almost always spoken had higher average achievement than those who spoke it less frequently. In all of the Benchmarking states except Massachusetts and Texas, 90 percent or more of the students reported always or almost always speaking the language of the test at home. The percentage of students speaking the language of the test at home was lower in a number of school districts, however, particularly the public school systems in Chicago, Jersey City, and Miami-Dade.
Exhibit 4.4 presents students reports of their race/ethnicity. Across the United States as a whole, 63 percent reported that they were white, 15 percent black, 12 percent Hispanic, five percent Asian or Pacific Islander, one percent American Indian or Alaskan Native, and four percent other. There was a pronounced relationship between race/ethnicity and mathematics achievement, with Asian/Pacific Islander students having the highest average achievement, followed by white, Hispanic, and black students. This pattern was found for many of the Benchmarking participants. Because minority students are often concentrated in urban schools, the resource disparities between urban and non-urban schools summarized in the introduction to this report are particularly troubling in light of the persistent achievement gaps between many minority and non-minority students.
Among Benchmarking states, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina had more than 30 percent black students, and Texas more than 30 percent Hispanic. Racial composition varied even more among the Benchmarking districts and consortia. Predominantly white jurisdictions included the Academy School District, the Fremont/Lincoln/Westside Public Schools, the Michigan Invitational Group, Naperville, and the Southwest Pennsylvania Math and Science Collaborative, with more than 80 percent white students. Ethnically more diverse jurisdictions included Chicago (47 percent black, 37 percent Hispanic), Jersey City (35 percent black, 35 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Asian/Pacific Islander), Miami-Dade (31 percent black, 55 percent Hispanic), Montgomery County (16 percent black, 12 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Asian/Pacific Islander), and Rochester (56 percent black, 16 percent Hispanic).
By the end of the eighth grade, students in most countries can say what their expectations are for further education. Although one-quarter or more of the students in some countries did not know, Exhibit 4.5 shows that, on average across countries, more than half the students reported that they expected to finish university (a four-year degree program or equivalent). The United States was among the countries that had the highest percentage, with almost 80 percent expecting to finish university. In almost every country, also, there was a positive association between educational expectations and mathematics achievement. Among Benchmarking participants, the percentage of students expecting to finish university was also high, even in areas with low student achievement, as more than 70 percent of students in all Benchmarking entities reported that they expected to finish university.
Exhibits R1.5 to R1.7 in the reference section present eighth-grade students reports about how they, their mothers, and their friends feel about the importance of doing well in various academic and non-academic activities. On average across the TIMSS 1999 countries, more than 90 percent of students reported that they and their mothers agreed that it was important to do well in mathematics, science, and language. Somewhat fewer reported that their friends agreed (77 to 86 percent). As might be anticipated, slightly more students reported that they and their friends felt it was important to have fun (92 percent) than reported that their mothers found this important (85 percent). More moderate agreement was reported for the importance of doing well in sports (from 81 to 87 percent). In general, the reports of students in the Benchmarking jurisdictions resembled those in the United States overall. It is noteworthy, however, that students in the U.S. and in many Benchmarking jurisdictions were less likely than their counterparts internationally, on average, to report that their friends think it is important to do well in mathematics, science, and language, and were more likely to report that they, their mothers, and their friends think it is important to have fun.
Students were also asked why they needed to do well in mathematics (see Exhibit R1.8). In most entities, getting into their desired secondary school or university was a stronger motivating factor than was pleasing their parents or getting their desired job.
TIMSS 1999 is a project of the International
Boston College, Lynch School of Education