Mathematics Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 4: Students' Backgrounds and Attitudes Towards Mathematics

How Do Students Perceive Their Ability in Mathematics?

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

I would like mathematics much more if it were not so difficult

Although I do my best, mathematics 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 mathematics

Sometimes when I do not understand a new topic in mathematics initially, I know that I will never really understand it

Mathematics is not one of my strengths.

Students who disagreed or strongly disagreed with all five statements were assigned to the high level of the index, while students who agreed or strongly agreed with all five 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 “mathematics is not one of my strengths.”)

The percentages of eighth-grade students at each index level, and their average mathematics achievement, are presented in Exhibit 4.8. Across participating countries, the United States was among those with the greatest percentages of students at the high level of the self-concept index: 31 percent compared with 18 percent on average across all countries. Several of the Benchmarking participants had even greater percentages at the high level, notably the Naperville School District and the First in the World Consortium, with 40 percent or more of students at this level.

Although there was a clear positive association between self-concept and mathematics achievement within every country and within every Benchmarking jurisdiction, the relationship across entities was more complex. Several countries with high average mathematics achievement, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Korea, and Japan, had relatively low percentages of students (15 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.

Exhibit 4.9 presents the percentages of girls and boys in the Benchmarking entities and in the comparison countries at the high, medium, and low levels of the mathematics 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 Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, and the Delaware Science Coalition. Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, the Academy School District, and the Delaware Science Coalition had greater percentages of girls at the medium level, and Montgomery County had a greater percentage of girls at the low level.

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