Ina V.S. Mullis

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Less Difficult TIMSS Mathematics at Fourth Grade

By their fourth year of schooling, many children have graduated from basic arithmetic and are studying the broader domains and concepts of mathematics. For a variety of reasons, however, there are countries where most children in the fourth grade are still developing fundamental numeracy skills. Thus, beginning in 2015 and continuing in 2019, IEA has extended TIMSS by offering a less difficult mathematics assessment at the fourth grade.

The purpose of including less difficult items was to extend the TIMSS mathematics achievement scale at fourth grade to provide better measurement at the lower end of the scale. In 2015, the less difficult mathematics items, known as TIMSS Numeracy, were given as a separate mathematics assessment, although most countries that participated in TIMSS Numeracy also participated in TIMSS, as usual, to have science results. This led to several important developments. First, TIMSS 2015 was able to report all fourth grade mathematics results on the same achievement scale whether the students participated in TIMSS, TIMSS Numeracy, or both. In turn, this enables TIMSS 2019 to have two versions of TIMSS—one with less difficult mathematics—so that countries do not have to administer two different assessments in order to assess both numeracy and science. Depending on a countryʼs educational development and the studentsʼ mathematics proficiency, countries can participate in either version of TIMSS to conduct the most effective assessment.

It is important to understand that for TIMSS 2019 at the fourth grade:

  • Both versions of the mathematics assessment, regular and less difficult, were developed according to the fourth grade mathematics framework contained in this volume (see Chapter 1)
  • The availability of two versions of TIMSS mathematics at fourth grade enables TIMSS to target the assessment to each countryʼs situation in order to provide the best possible measurement
  • The mathematics results for all countries participating in TIMSS 2019 will be reported on the same achievement scale, including the results for countries administering the less difficult version of TIMSS mathematics

Both regular and less difficult versions of TIMSS mathematics at fourth grade are equivalent in scope, and about one-third of the items are the same. The other two-thirds of the items are based on the same areas of the framework, but with those in the less difficult version being generally less difficult. A substantial portion of the items in the less difficult version are from TIMSS Numeracy 2015 to enable measuring trends. The items in common between the two versions of mathematics at fourth grade will enable the two assessments to be linked, so that the results can be reported together and directly compared.

It is important to have a good match between TIMSS and the studentsʼ curriculum and achievement. Experience with TIMSS Numeracy and PIRLS Literacy (the less difficult version of IEAʼs PIRLS reading assessment) indicates that lower performing students are more strongly motivated by less difficult items, and better able to demonstrate what they know and can do, resulting in fewer omitted items, especially for constructed response questions, and higher completion rates.