Press release: New TIMSS 2019 findings reveal science and mathematics achievement is on the rise

Today the new TIMSS results were published, this is the press release on the whole study (most countries only talk about themselves…)

International results find most countries are reaching minimum proficiency, gender equity eroded in mathematics at fourth grade, and teachers requiring more professional development for integrating technology into their teaching.

The Global Education 2030 Agenda places learning outcomes at the heart of the international education monitoring framework. The results of TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) 2019 can provide further insights on how learning assessments not only can help measure and monitor, but also improve learning outcomes through interventions related to equity, school violence, learning environment or teacher qualifications.

Progress towards SDG 4 – students reaching minimum proficiency

One of the global indicators of target 4.1 is the percentage of students who meet a minimum proficiency level in mathematics, for which the TIMSS Low International Benchmark (400 score points) serves as a reliable global indicator among participating countries, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2019 Databook.

Several countries have experienced robust growth in this context, while other countries have stagnated. Among participating countries and territories in TIMSS 2019, 92% of fourth grade students and 87% of eighth grade students reached the Low International Benchmark in mathematics (median across countries). Positively, the percentage of students performing at or above the TIMSS Low International Benchmark in mathematics is the same across genders.

The findings do, however, highlight the disparity between home educational resources and achievement, with 96% of fourth grade students from homes with many resources for learning reaching the TIMSS Low International Benchmark in mathematics. This is in contrast to only 70% of students from homes with a few educational resources for learning. This is an important finding for policy consideration given the pandemic disruption and transition to home learning for many students.

Growing gender gap favoring boys in fourth grade mathematics

Eliminating gender disparities by 2030 is a key focus for SDG target 4.5. New findings reveal gender equity has eroded in the short-term from 2015 to 2019 for mathematics at the fourth grade, where boys achieved a higher score on average in almost half of the countries (27), compared to around a third of the countries (18) in 2015.

In science at both grades, there are more countries in which girls have higher average achievement compared to boys than countries where boys achieve higher on average than girls. This paints a vastly different picture to the first TIMSS 1995 findings, in which there were no countries reporting girls performing higher than boys in science.

More than just a league table

The Education 2030 Agenda calls for an integrated approach to learning to leave no one behind. TIMSS sheds light on this by providing evidence and allowing for greater disaggregation of data on learning outcomes by gender, socioeconomic status, and language as well as by age, and other variables obtained from the background questionnaires.

In addition to mathematics and science learning assessments, TIMSS gathers extensive information about the contextual factors at school and home which are associated with learning and students’ achievement. These include details on how the education system is organized to facilitate learning (see more on TIMSS 2019 Encyclopedia in notes to editors, below), students’ home environment and supports for learning, school climate and resources, and classroom instruction.

Safe learning environments

For instance, we know from TIMSS 2019 that, on average, around one third of both fourth and eighth grade students reported experiencing bullying either ‘About Weekly’ or ‘About Monthly’ and these students’ achievement was lower than students who reported never or almost never experiencing bullying. Further, TIMSS 2019 showed a higher average achievement was associated with students experiencing little or no bullying.

The importance of a safe environment as a factor determining learning outcomes has been recognized in the Education 2030 Agenda. From the TIMSS 2019 school principal questionnaire, we know that most students attend schools with hardly any discipline problems or minor problems and these students had higher achievements than where there are moderate to severe discipline problems.

More teacher professional development needed

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a level of educational disruption greater than anything seen before, putting an immense pressure on students and teachers to adapt to home schooling programs and remote learning. New TIMSS 2019 results, collected in March to June of 2019 and before any trace of the pandemic, reveals over 70% of students are taught by eighth grade teachers already indicating a need for more future professional development towards integrating technology into mathematics and science instruction.

Early start has learning benefits

TIMSS 2019 continued to demonstrate the positive relationship between early childhood education and higher average achievement.

At fourth grade, students whose parents often engage them in more frequent literacy and numeracy activities during early childhood had much higher achievement, 60 points higher in mathematics and 86 points higher in science, than students whose parents never or almost never do. The same was the case for students who had more years of preprimary education.

Commenting on the results, IEA Executive Director, Dr Dirk Hastedt said:

“TIMSS is of particular importance in assessing achievements towards the Education 2030 Agenda. Encouragingly, trends in mathematics and science are largely improving in fourth and eighth grades, with the majority of students achieving minimum proficiency. However, there is still a certain percentage not achieving the minimum benchmark standard, and we must not forget the large score gaps that remain in many countries between the top and bottom performing students, which has only been underlined by the COVID-19 pandemic this year.”

“An important aspect of TIMSS is the contextual questionnaires that are asked alongside the attainment data, and that cover a wide range of areas from the provision of resources and teaching for science and mathematics, but also the educational background of teachers, demographic information, the level of deprivation or affluence of the area that the school is in, right through to the attitudes of students about the subjects that they’re taught, or topics like bullying and school safety.”

“This rich contextual information that goes alongside the attainment data allows us to try and link those contextual factors to their impact on performance in school and in those subjects, such as how socio economic disadvantage is associated with achievement. So, TIMSS provides a really rich database, in which to dig into those features and find some really important lessons for both policymakers and practitioners in those subject areas.”

“As a father of three girls and having myself a background in mathematics, I am deeply concerned about the growing gender gap in fourth grade mathematics and think it is especially important to continue monitoring this aspect closely!”

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