Science Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 2: Performance at International Benchmarks

Achievement at the Upper Quarter Benchmark

As may be seen in Exhibit 2.7, students performing at the Upper Quarter Benchmark typically showed a developing understanding of biological systems. Example Item 6 (see Exhibit 2.8) required students to apply knowledge of energy flow to complete a food web diagram. Internationally, 55 percent of students indicated the correct order of energy flow from the providers to the consumers. Among the comparison countries, performance on this item was best in Chinese Taipei, Singapore, and Korea, with least at 85 percent of the students responding correctly. Students in Naperville performed about as well as students in those three countries. Other Benchmarking entities with performance significantly above the international average were the Academy School District, the Michigan Invitational Group, the Project smart Consortium, and the state of Michigan. Those with significantly below-average performance were the public school systems of Jersey City, Chicago, Rochester, and Miami-Dade.

Even though students at the lower benchmarks demonstrated practical knowledge of rusting and burning, only at the Upper Quarter Benchmark did they typically recognize these as chemical reactions. As shown in Example Item 7 in Exhibit 2.9, 55 percent of students internationally recognized that burning releases energy. Performance in the United States (64 percent correct) and many Benchmarking jurisdictions was significantly above the international average. Miami-Dade was the only Benchmarking participant with below-average performance.

In Example Item 8 (see Exhibit 2.10), students were required to identify rusting as a chemical reaction from a list of chemical and physical changes. On average, slightly less than half the students internationally (49 percent) selected the correct response, compared with 87 percent in top-performing Chinese Taipei. A common misconception demonstrated by students in many countries was that the dissolving of sugar is a chemical reaction (option B). Performance in the United States overall was near the international average, although in six of the Benchmarking entities – the First in the World Consortium, the Academy School District, Michigan, Guilford County, Idaho, and Oregon – performance was significantly above average.

Example Item 9 in Exhibit 2.11 required some knowledge of insect populations, natural selection, and the effect of human control on the environment. Students at the Upper Quarter Benchmark recognized that insecticides become less effective over time because some insects pass their resistance to their offspring. While internationally slightly less than half the students (48 percent) chose the correct response, performance in the United States as a whole (62 percent) and in many of the Benchmarking jurisdictions was significantly above the international average. First in the World and Naperville had particularly good performance on this item, comparable to that in Chinese Taipei. Internationally, many students selected option C, which is a true statement on the effect of insecticides on the environment, but is not the correct explanation for the stated problem.

Students performing at the Upper Quarter Benchmark demonstrated basic scientific inquiry skills such as recognizing the variables to be controlled in an experiment and drawing conclusions from a set of observations. In Example Item 10 (see Exhibit 2.12), students identified the correct conclusion that can be drawn from observing the evaporation of two different liquids. Although internationally less than half the students (48 percent) chose the correct response, students in the United States performed very well (76 percent correct). All of the Benchmarking participants had significantly above-average performance on this question, with 17 of them performing comparably to or better than the two highest-performing countries, England and Singapore.

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