Science Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 6: Teachers and Instruction

What Are the Roles of Homework and Assessment?

The amount of time students spend on homework assignments is an important consideration in examining their opportunity to learn science. Exhibit 6.15 presents the index of teachers’ emphasis on science homework (ESH). Students in the high category had teachers who reported giving relatively long homework assignments (more than 30 minutes) on a relatively frequent basis (at least once or twice a week). Those in the low category had teachers who gave short assignments (less than 30 minutes) relatively infrequently (less than once a week or never). The medium level includes all other combinations of responses. Details from teachers’ reports about the length and frequency of their homework assignments are found in the reference section in Exhibit R3.11.

The results show substantial variation across countries and Benchmarking entities in the emphasis placed on homework. Together with Italy among the comparison countries, the Academy School District had more than half its students in the high category. For the remaining Benchmarking participants, the majority of students were in the medium category. Countries with one-third or more of their students in the low category included Korea, Japan, Belgium (Flemish), and the Czech Republic. Only the Fremont/Lincoln/Westside Public Schools had a comparable percentage among Benchmarking participants. There was little relationship between the amount of homework assigned and students’ performance. Again, lower-performing students may need more homework assignments for remedial reasons.

Since problem-solving activities will potentially be more beneficial if they can be extended to out-of-class-situations and stretched over a longer time, TIMSS asked teachers how often they assigned science homework based on projects and investigations. The data in Exhibit Exhibit R3.12 in the reference section show that this was a more common practice in the United States and the Benchmarking jurisdictions than in the comparison countries, with the exception of Canada. Although the percentage of students in classes where this type of science homework is sometimes or always assigned was well above the international average of 34 percent in most Benchmarking jurisdictions, it ranged from 18 percent in the Rochester City School District to 92 percent in the Naperville School District. In some countries the students who were sometimes or always assigned science projects as homework performed slightly better than those who were rarely or never assigned it.

One theme in recommendations for educational reform is to make assessment a continuous process that relies on a variety of methods and sources of data, rather than on a few high-stakes tests. Exhibit 6.16 shows teachers’ reports about the weight given to various types of assessment. Teachers in the United States as a whole and in most of the Benchmarking jurisdictions reported placing less weight on informal assessment approaches than did teachers internationally. On average internationally, the most emphasis was placed on teacher-made tests requiring explanations and on students’ responses in class, which were given quite a lot or a great deal of weight for 76 and 75 percent of the students, respectively. The next heaviest weight internationally was given to observations of students (68 percent). While the weight given teacher-made tests requiring explanations was similar to or greater than the international average in many Benchmarking jurisdictions, students’ responses in class and observations of students were given less weight in the United States as a whole and in most Benchmarking jurisdictions (generally for about half the students or less). Exceptions included Chicago, the Delaware Science Coalition, Jersey City, and Miami-Dade.

Internationally, the least weight reportedly was given to external standardized tests, with just 33 percent of students having science teachers who reported giving them quite a lot or a great deal of weight. Science teachers in the United States and across Benchmarking participants generally gave less weight to these tests. The percentage of students whose teachers give a lot of weight to such assessments ranged from less than 10 percent in Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the Academy School District, First in the World, and Naperville, to more than 40 percent in the Jersey City Public Schools.

As shown in Exhibit R3.13, eighth-grade students reported substantial variation in the frequency of testing in their science classes. On average internationally, 58 percent of students in general/integrated science classes and about 50 percent of students in separate science classes reported having a quiz or test almost always or pretty often. Testing was reported to be relatively frequent in the United States, where 77 percent of students reported often having a quiz or test in science class. Across the Benchmarking participants generally, between 70 and 85 percent of eighth-grade students were in science classes with frequent testing.

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