Mathematics Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 4: Students' Backgrounds and Attitudes Towards Mathematics

What Are Students’ Attitudes Towards Mathematics?

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

I like mathematics

I enjoy learning mathematics

Mathematics is boring(5)

Mathematics is important to everyone’s life

I would like a job that involved using mathematics.

For each statement, students responded on a four-point scale indicating whether their feelings about mathematics 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. (Additional information on students’ liking mathematics, one of the components of the index, is provided in Exhibit R1.12 in the reference section.)

Internationally, eighth graders generally had positive attitudes towards mathematics, with 37 percent on average across all TIMSS 1999 countries in the high category and a further 52 percent in the medium category. Only 11 percent of students were in the low category. The percentage for the United States did not vary much from the international average for the high category, but was greater in the low category (16 percent). Benchmarking jurisdictions with large percentages of students at the high level included Jersey City, Chicago, and North Carolina (44 percent or more). Jurisdictions with students having somewhat less favorable attitudes included Massachusetts, Oregon, and the Academy School District, where 28 to 29 percent of the students were at the high level. The reference countries with the least positive attitudes were Japan and Korea (9 percent in the high category). Since these are countries with high average mathematics achievement, it may be that the students follow a demanding mathematics curriculum that leads to high achievement but little enthusiasm for the subject matter. However, there was a clear positive association between attitudes towards mathematics and mathematics achievement on average across all the TIMSS 1999 countries and in many of the Benchmarking entities.

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 mathematics. Although the United States, like many of the other countries, had significantly different percentages of girls and boys at the index levels, there were essentially no significant differences among the Benchmarking participants. The only significant difference was in Massachusetts, with a greater percentage of girls at the medium level.

to Chapter 5 >

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

Click here to return to the ISC homepage

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