TIMSS 2019 Science Framework

Victoria A.S. Centurino and Lee R. Jones

Download TIMSS 2019 Science Framework (pdf)


Children have a natural curiosity about the world and their place in it. Science education in the primary grades capitalizes on this curiosity and starts young students on a path of systematic inquiry about the world in which they live. As their understanding of science develops, students in the lower-secondary grades become increasingly able to make informed decisions about themselves and their world so that, as adults, they can become informed citizens capable of distinguishing scientific fact from fiction and understanding the scientific basis of important social, economic, and environmental issues. Across the world, there is an increased demand for those qualified to pursue the careers in science, technology, and engineering that drive the innovation necessary for economic growth and for improving quality of life. To meet this demand, it is increasingly important to prepare students to enter advanced study in these areas.

This chapter presents the assessment frameworks for the two TIMSS 2019 science assessments:

  • TIMSS Science—Fourth Grade
  • TIMSS Science—Eighth Grade

The TIMSS 2019 Science Frameworks for the fourth and eighth grades extend the 24-year history of TIMSS assessments, beginning in 1995 and taking place every four years since. TIMSS 2019 is the seventh assessment in the series.

In general, the TIMSS 2019 science frameworks are similar to those used in TIMSS 2015. However, there have been minor updates to particular topics to better reflect the curricula of the participating countries as reported in the TIMSS 2015 Encyclopedia (Mullis, Martin, Goh, and Cotter, 2016). TIMSS 2019 marks the transition to eTIMSS, and the science frameworks have also been updated to take advantage of both digital and paper assessment formats. eTIMSS provides an avenue for expanding the range of assessment methods included in TIMSS and capitalizes especially on new and improved computer-based approaches to the assessment of inquiry and investigation in science.

At each grade, the science assessment framework for TIMSS 2019 is organized around two dimensions:

  • Content dimension, specifying the subject matter to be assessed
  • Cognitive dimension, specifying the thinking processes to be assessed

Exhibit 2.1 shows the target percentage of testing time devoted to each content and cognitive domain for the TIMSS 2019 fourth and eighth grade assessments.

Exhibit 2.1: Target Percentages of the TIMSS 2019 Science Assessment Devoted to Content and Cognitive Domains at the Fourth and Eighth Grades

Fourth Grade
Content Domains Percentages
Life Science 45%
Physical Science 35%
Earth Science 20%
Eighth Grade
Content Domains Percentages
Biology 35%
Chemistry 20%
Physics 25%
Earth Science 20%
Cognitive Domains Percentages
Fourth Grade Eighth Grade
Knowing 40% 35%
Applying 40% 35%
Reasoning 20% 30%

The content domains differ for the fourth and eighth grades, reflecting the nature and difficulty of the science taught at each grade. There is more emphasis at the fourth grade on life science than its counterpart, biology, at the eighth grade. At the eighth grade, physics and chemistry are assessed as separate content domains and receive more emphasis than at fourth grade, where they are assessed as one content domain (physical science). The three cognitive domains (knowing, applying, and reasoning) are the same at both grades, encompassing the range of cognitive processes involved in learning science concepts, and then applying these concepts and reasoning with them.

In 2019, TIMSS Science also will assess science practices. These practices include skills from daily life and school studies that students use in a systematic way to conduct scientific inquiry and investigation and that are fundamental to all science disciplines. Increasing emphasis has been placed on science practices and science inquiry in many countries’ current science curricula, standards, and frameworks (Mullis, Martin, Goh, and Cotter, 2016).

The practice of science is, by its very nature, strongly connected to the area of science under study and, therefore, cannot be assessed in isolation. Some items in the TIMSS 2019 science assessment at both the fourth and eighth grades will assess one or more of these important science practices together with content specified in the content domains and thinking processes specified in the cognitive domains.

The next two sections of this chapter present the TIMSS 2019 science content domains for fourth and eighth grades, followed by a description of the cognitive domains, which are applicable to both grades. The chapter concludes with a description of the science practices.