The IEA's Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is a series of international assessments of the mathematics and science knowledge of students around the world. The participating students come from a diverse set of educational systems (countries or regional jurisdictions of countries) in terms of economic development, geographical location, and population size. In each of the participating educational systems, a minimum of 4,500 to 5,000 students is evaluated. Contextual data about the conditions in which participating students learn mathematics and science are collected from the students and their teachers, their principals, and their parents via questionnaires.
TIMSS is one of the studies established by IEA aimed at allowing educational systems worldwide to compare students' educational achievement and learn from the experiences of others in designing effective education policy. This assessment was first conducted in 1995, and has been administered every four years thereafter. Therefore, some of the participating educational systems have trend data across assessments from 1995 to 2015. TIMSS assesses 4th and 8th grade students, while TIMSS Advanced assesses students in the final year of secondary school in advanced mathematics and physics.
A precursor to TIMSS was the First International Mathematics Study (FIMS) performed in 1964 in 11 countries for students aged 13 and in the final year of secondary education (FS) under the auspices of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). This was followed in 1970-71 by the First International Science Study (FISS) for students aged 10, 14, and FS. Fourteen countries tested 10-year olds; 16 countries tested the older two groups. These were replicated between 1980 and 1984.
These early studies were revised and combined by the IEA to create TIMSS, which was first administered in 1995. It was the largest international student assessment study of its time and evaluated students in five grades. In the second cycle (1999) only eighth-grade students were tested. In the next cycles (2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015) both 4th and 8th grade students were assessed. The 2011 cycle was performed in the same year as the IEA's Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), offering a comprehensive assessment of mathematics, science and reading for the countries participating in both studies. The sixth cycle was conducted in 2015, and the results were released in 2016; the data set was published in February 2017. TIMSS 2015 included data collected from parents for the first time. TIMSS Advanced, previously conducted in 1995 and 2008, was also conducted in 2015, and assessed final-year secondary students' achievement in advanced mathematics and physics. Policy-relevant data about curriculum emphasis, technology use, and teacher preparation and training accompanies the TIMSS Advanced results.
Along with the overall students’ achievement data, TIMSS comprehensive assessments include data on student performance in various mathematics and science domains (algebra, geometry, biology, chemistry, etc.) and on performance in the problem solving challenges in each of these contexts. In addition, TIMSS provides contextual data on crucial curricular, instructional, and resource-related factors that can impact the teaching and learning process. These data are gathered using student, teacher, school, and curriculum (national) questionnaires filled out by students, teachers, school principals and National Research Coordinators, respectively.
According to the TIMSS 2011 international results in mathematics, “The TIMSS mathematics achievement scales were established in TIMSS 1995 based on the achievement distribution across all participating countries, treating each country equally. At each grade level, the scale center point of 500 was set to correspond to the mean of the overall achievement distribution, and 100 points on the scale was set to correspond to the standard deviation. Achievement data from subsequent TIMSS assessment cycles were linked to these scales so that increases or decreases in average achievement may be monitored across assessments. TIMSS uses the scale center point as a point of reference that remains constant from assessment to assessment”.
Because TIMSS is administered in four-year cycles, it enables participating counties to use the results between the fourth and eighth grades to track the changes in achievement and certain background factors from an earlier study. For example, results of the fourth grade in TIMSS 1995 can be compared with the results of the eighth grade in TIMSS 1999, as fourth graders had become eighth graders in the next cycle of study.
The IEA has developed an application for working with data from TIMSS and other IEA large-scale assessments called the "IEA International Database (IDB) Analyzer".. This application allows researchers to combine data files and facilitates some types of statistical analysis (such as computing means, percentages, percentiles, correlations, and estimating single level multiple linear regression). The application takes into account the complex sample structure of the databases when calculating the statistics and their standard errors. It also allows researchers to estimate achievement scores and their standard errors.
For an overview of the IEA study results and interpretation of information, the IEA's "Data Visualizer". can come in handy.
In TIMSS 1995, there were 41 educational systems in five grades (third, fourth, seventh, eighth, and the final year of secondary school). In 1999, TIMSS only focused on the eighth grade in 38 educational systems; there was no study done for the fourth grade in that year. In TIMSS 2003, there were 26 educational systems for the fourth grade and 48 for the eighth grade. In TIMSS 2007, 44 educational systems participated in the fourth grade and 57 educational systems in the eighth grade. TIMSS 2011 had 52 participating educational systems for the fourth grade and 45 for the eighth grade.
In TIMSS 2015, nationally representative samples of students in 57 countries and 7 benchmarking entities participated in the fourth grade assessment, the eighth grade assessment, or both.
TIMSS 2019 will be the seventh cycle of TIMSS, reporting overall achievement as well as results according to international benchmarks, by major content domains (number, algebra, and geometry in mathematics, and earth science, biology, and chemistry in science), and by cognitive domains (knowing, applying, and reasoning). Like the previous TIMSS assessments (conducted in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015), the study will collect detailed information about curriculum and curriculum implementation, instructional practices, and school resources. TIMSS 2019 is focusing on converting to a digital format (eTIMSS 2019). Fourth-grade students can interact with geometric shapes and patterns to demonstrate their mastery of fractions and symmetry, or arrange square flower boxes to explore the relationship between perimeter and area. Eighth-grade students can help to design a storage building by calculating its dimensions, or plan a plant growth experiment and see the results. Other tasks will assess students’ knowledge in areas covered by the TIMSS frameworks, including algebra, data and chance, physics, and chemistry.
eTIMSS will continue all the benefits of TIMSS, enabling countries to measure how effective they are in teaching mathematics and science.
The TIMSS 1999 Video Study was a study of eighth-grade mathematics and science teaching in seven countries. The study involved videotaping and analyzing teaching practices in more than one thousand classrooms. In conjunction with the IEA, the study was conducted by the US National Center for Education Statistics, and the US Department of Education under a contract with LessonLab, Inc. of Los Angeles, California.
TIMSS and other international math and science studies
Hanushek and Woessmann developed a methodology to rescale 14 different international comparisons of math and / or science achievement to make them comparable. This includes the FIMS, FISS, and PISA, mentioned above, with TIMSS.
This methodology is somewhat disputed amongst experts in quantitative methods used in educational and psychological measurement as it is basically only a linear scale transformation that cannot ensure or examine whether PISA and TIMSS scores are based on the same or at least comparable measurement constructs: The numerical values used to measure shoe size and intelligence can be transformed so that both have the same arithmetic mean and standard deviation, but they still represent two very different characteristics.