Science Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 2: Performance at International Benchmarks

Achievement at the Top 10% Benchmark

Exhibit 2.1 describes performance at the Top 10% Benchmark. Students reaching this benchmark have demonstrated nearly full mastery of the content of the TIMSS 1999 science test, demonstrating a grasp of some complex and abstract concepts, the ability to apply knowledge to solve problems, and an understanding of the fundamentals of scientific investigation. They typically demonstrated success on the knowledge and skills represented by this benchmark, as well as those demonstrated at the three lower benchmarks.

Students performing at the Top 10% Benchmark could communicate scientific information, such as their understanding of plant growth. As illustrated by Example Item 1 in Exhibit 2.2, students could explain why a nail placed in the trunk of a tree remained at the same level from the ground while the tree increased in height. Internationally on average, 41 percent of the eighth-grade students correctly explained that trees grow in height from the tips of their stems or branches. In Belgium (Flemish), the comparison country with most success on this item, nearly two-thirds of the students gave a correct response. Among the Benchmarking participants, eighth graders in the Naperville School District did as well as their counterparts in Belgium, with 63 percent answering correctly. In Michigan, Oregon, and Montgomery County, also, the percentage of students answering correctly was significantly greater than the international average. Generally, students in the United States – in the country as a whole and in the Benchmarking jurisdictions – performed at about the international average on this item. Miami-Dade was the only Benchmarking participant where the students performed significantly below the international average.

Students at the Top 10% Benchmark typically were able to apply basic physical principles to solve quantitative problems and support their answers in writing. In Example Item 2 (see Exhibit 2.3), given data on fuel consumption and work accomplished for two machines, students were asked to explain which machine is more efficient. To answer correctly, students needed to interpret data in the table, compute the appropriate ratio, and explain their results. Internationally on average, 31 percent of the students identified machine B and gave an explanation comparing the volumes of water the two machines pumped with the same amount of gasoline. Only in the Netherlands, Korea, and Belgium (Flemish) did a majority of the students give a fully correct response. Among Benchmarking participants, students in Naperville and the Michigan Invitational Group performed significantly above the international average, and students in Maryland, North and South Carolina, Chicago, Miami-Dade, and Rochester performed below it.

Students at the Top 10% Benchmark also demonstrated an understanding of gravitational force (see in Example Item 3 in Exhibit 2.4). On average across countries, 36 percent of students recognized that gravity acts on a rocket while it is on the launch pad, while it ascends under power, and while it parachutes back to earth. This was quite a difficult question internationally, with only three of the comparison countries performing significantly above the international average (the Czech Republic, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei), and four performing below it (Korea, Belgium (Flemish), Italy, and Hong Kong). Nearly one-third of students across countries selected option A, indicating their misconception that gravity acts on the rocket only when it is falling back to earth. Students in the United States and in many of the Benchmarking entities performed relatively well on this question, with 15 entities having above-average performance. Only the public school systems of Miami-Dade and Chicago had below-average performance.

At the Top 10% Benchmark, students typically demonstrated knowledge of most of the chemical concepts covered by the TIMSS 1999 science test, including the structure of matter as well as chemical and physical changes. As shown in Example Item 4 in Exhibit 2.5, students could apply knowledge of the process of filtration and of the difference between solutions and mixtures to identify a separable mixture. While 39 percent of students internationally correctly identified the heterogeneous mixture of pepper and water, a nearly equal number exhibited the misconception that a solution could be separated by filtration (option D or E). The Czech Republic had the highest performance, with 64 percent of its students responding correctly. Performance of the United States and the Benchmarking jurisdictions on this item generally was around the international average. Only in Naperville, the First in the World Consortium, and the Academy School District was performance significantly above the international average, and only in the Rochester City School District was it significantly below.

Students at the Top 10% Benchmark demonstrated some detailed knowledge of environmental and resource issues not seen at the lower benchmarks. Example Item 5 in Exhibit 2.6 shows that students recognized rising ocean levels as a predicted result of global warming. Internationally on average, only one-third of the eighth-grade students responded correctly. In contrast, more than half the students in Japan, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, and Singapore did so. Among Benchmarking participants, Naperville alone had above-average performance. Six of the participants had performance significantly below the international average: Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Project smart, Rochester, North Carolina, and Jersey City. Many students incorrectly identified the thinning ozone layer (option D) as a result of global warming.

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