Ina V.S. Mullis

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The TIMSS International Assessments in Mathematics and Science

The TIMSS international assessments of mathematics and science were inaugurated in 1995 as a follow-up to IEA’s earlier studies conducted separately in these curriculum areas (two in mathematics and two in science) during the 1960s through the 1980s. After the early assessment cycles in the 1990s, TIMSS has been stable over the next two decades with regular assessments every four years at the fourth and eighth grades. Since 1995, the achievement results of each TIMSS assessment (mathematics and science, fourth and eighth grades) have been reported on achievement scales that span the assessment cycles, making it possible to detect changes in achievement from one cycle to the next, and to measure trends in achievement over time. In addition, assessing fourth and eighth grades provides a quasi-cohort design with the fourth grade student cohort assessed in one cycle becoming the eighth grade student cohort assessed in the next cycle. This enables TIMSS to provide valuable information about trends in educational achievement across time and across grades within a particular assessment.

There also are periodic assessments of TIMSS Advanced. First conducted in 1995 and then again in 2008, TIMSS Advanced was recently assessed again as part of TIMSS 2015. It targets students who are engaged in advanced mathematics and physics studies that prepare them to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs in higher education. TIMSS Advanced assesses these students in their final year of secondary school, and is the only international assessment that provides essential information about students specifically prepared for STEM careers.

All of the countries, institutions, and agencies involved in the TIMSS assessments have worked collaboratively in building the most comprehensive, innovative, and stable trend measures of mathematics and science achievement possible. The TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, IEA Amsterdam, IEA Hamburg, and the participating countries have worked together to make continual enhancements to TIMSS over its long history of development. For example, in 2011 TIMSS and PIRLS were assessed together to study the relative impact of mathematics, science, and reading achievement at the fourth grade. In 2015, to celebrate 20 years of trends TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced were assessed together for the first time since 1995, providing a profile of education through secondary school. Now, for 2019, TIMSS is starting the transition to a digital format (see the section eTIMSS: The Future of TIMSS).

Taken together, TIMSSʼ focus on regular assessments measuring trends in achievement, attention to emerging issues in content and the contexts for learning, and robust methods and procedures make it important to educational decision making in the participating countries.

The TIMSS achievement data in combination with the context questionnaire scales can be used to:

  • Monitor system-level achievement trends in a global context
  • Use TIMSS results to inform educational policy, and monitor the impact of new or revised policies
  • Pinpoint any underperforming areas, and stimulate curriculum reform
  • See how the fourth grade cohort from a previous cycle performs at the eighth grade in the next cycle
  • Obtain important information about the home and school contexts for teaching and learning in relation to students’ achievement in mathematics and science