International maths and science study a rich resource for Kiwi teachers

Issue: Volume 99, Number 2

Posted: 14 February 2020
Reference #: 1HA5SN

A four-yearly study that benchmarks the achievement of students in Years 5 and 9 in maths and science against their international counterparts has been completed, with a report due at the end of the year. The Ministry of Education is keen to explore ways of sharing the resulting data with teachers.

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is designed to measure and interpret differences in national educational systems to help improve the teaching and learning of these subjects. In New Zealand, 11,000 Year 5 and Year 9 students were randomly selected to take part in the 2018/19 study, with 14 people scoring their assessment books.

One of the study’s assessors wants the insights gained to be shared more widely with New Zealand teachers.

John Mitchell was a maths and science scorer of the recent New Zealand study. John taught maths in the United Kingdom for 10 years before moving to New Zealand. In the UK he moderated O-Level papers and continues to mark A-Level exam papers.

“Marking in the UK helped inform my teaching and was probably the best PLD I received,” he says.

“It gives you a greater insight into how you can teach and allows you to prepare your students better because you learn what the examiners’ thinking is behind questions. It also helped give me an understanding of how students perceive questions.”

Robust assessment

John says the Ministry’s TIMSS assessment was well coordinated and one of the most robust he has seen, with the 14 scorers working together in Wellington. Peer marking meant the assessors were able to express their views, with further clarification occasionally sought from the international TIMSS coordinators in the United States.

“The results that are coming through are very standardised,” he says.

After teaching maths in Wellington, John now has a role with the Networks of Expertise and is keen to facilitate teacher-to-teacher training in areas TIMSS has shown need attention. 

“Reports in the media on the TIMSS, PISA, and PIRLS data often look at where we are in the world and provide generic data. Specific information which can be fed back to teachers to help them with their teaching is often given less prominence.

“I would like to see us analysing each individual question at curriculum level and seeing how our students are doing with it. If we can identify certain areas where there is a problem, the Networks of Expertise can facilitate good teachers to help their colleagues.” 

Sharing results with teachers

TIMSS project manager and senior research analyst Debra Taylor says the Ministry of Education is  keen to work with the maths associations and expert networks to find better ways to share the data from the study with teachers.

“The assessment is given to students in participating countries all around the world and gives us a consistent basis for comparing achievement across education systems,” she says. 

“Because it’s a study which has been run for a number of years, we can look at trends within New Zealand and how the data as a consistent measure has changed over time. 

“It’s independent from our curriculum, but we do an exercise where we compare questions with our curriculum and what we would expect our students to have learned, so we can link it back to our curriculum.” 

TIMSS is led by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement(external link) (IEA), an independent international cooperative of national research institutions and government agencies. The Ministry of Education’s Educational Measurement and Assessment Team manages the implementation of the TIMSS studies in New Zealand.

TIMSS for teachers

The first TIMSS study was undertaken in 1994 and is repeated at four-year intervals. TIMSS assesses achievement in mathematics and science at middle primary and lower secondary levels, and collects background information on student, classroom and school contexts through questionnaires.


Results from TIMSS 2018/19 will be published in early December 2020.

The reports produced from TIMSS 2015 include chapters on strengths and weaknesses of New Zealand Year 5 and Year 9 students within the subject area and the relationship between TIMSS and The New Zealand Curriculum for that subject area.

The trends reports can be found on Education Counts(external link). 

2014-15 Maths Year 5 Report(external link) 

2014-15 Maths Year 9 Report(external link) 

2014-15 Science Year 5 Report(external link)

2014-15 Science Year 9 Report(external link) 

Teaching resources 

These publications focus on strengths and weaknesses identified in the 2011 study and provide links to resources for teachers to help them teach the topics learners found difficult. They can also be found on Education Counts(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:25 am, 14 February 2020

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