Science Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 2: Performance at International Benchmarks

Achievement at the Median Benchmark

Exhibit 2.13 describes performance at the Median Benchmark. Students at this benchmark could recognize and communicate basic scientific knowledge across a range of topics. Internationally on average, 66 percent of students extracted relevant information from the data table of planetary conditions to describe why a condition would be hostile to human life (see Example Item 11 in Exhibit 2.14). The majority said that there was too little oxygen in the atmosphere on Proto to breathe. Other common responses that received credit referred to low temperatures due to the greater distance from the sun, and lack of an ozone layer to protect human beings from the sun’s radiation. On this item, also, the United States and many of the Benchmarking jurisdictions had relatively good performance. The United States as a whole and 16 of the jurisdictions had performance significantly above the international average, and none had below-average performance.

At the Median Benchmark, students typically demonstrated some knowledge of the characteristics of animals and plants. In Example 12 (see Exhibit 2.15), 70 percent of students on average across countries recognized feeding milk to their young as a characteristic of mammals. This was not an area of strength in the United States, where performance was significantly below the international average. Only students in the Academy School District and the Michigan Invitational Group performed significantly above the international average, whereas students in Maryland, North Carolina, and the public school systems in Rochester, Miami-Dade, Chicago, and Jersey City performed below average.

Students at the Median Benchmark typically were familiar with some aspects of force and motion. As shown in Example Item 13 in Exhibit 2.16, students scoring at this level could identify the diagram showing forces that would result in rotation. Performance on this item was at the international average (62 percent correct) for the United States and for all Benchmarking participants except Chicago and Miami-Dade, which had below-average performance.

In Example Item 14 (see Exhibit 2.17), students had to apply an understanding of the concept of electrical circuits and the electrical conductivity of various materials to identify the diagrams that show a complete circuit. Internationally, 64 percent of students on average correctly identified the circuits connected to metallic materials. On this item, also, performance in the United States was at about the international average. Although seven of the comparison countries – Hong Kong, the Russian Federation, Belgium (Flemish), Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Korea, and the Netherlands – had above-average performance, only in Missouri and Naperville was performance significantly above the international average.

At the Median Benchmark, students were able to apply basic knowledge of the role of oxygen or air in rusting and burning. In Example Item 15 (see Exhibit 2.18), 67 percent of students internationally and more than 90 percent of those in top-performing Chinese Taipei recognized that painting iron surfaces inhibits rust by preventing exposure to oxygen and moisture. The United States and all but the four lowest-performing Benchmarking participants had average performance on this item.

Students at the Median Benchmark showed some elementary knowledge of the human impact on the environment, as illustrated by Example Item 16 in Exhibit 2.19. Over two-thirds (68 percent) of students on average internationally recognized that soil erosion is more likely in barren sloping areas. Although the United States overall had about average performance on this item, 13 of the Benchmarking participants performed significantly above the international average, including the Academy School District, which had performance comparable to high-scoring Chinese Taipei, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

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