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International context: introduction

Governments and researchers like to be able to compare their education systems to those in other countries. It means they can track progress of changes to curricula and teaching methods.

In order to do this, many countries take part in a series of assessments in maths and science for students in Grades 4 and 8. This called Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). It is conducted every four years by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The two most recent studies are from 2011 and 2015.

In TIMSS, students are asked to answer questions in different subjects from a generic maths curriculum. Questions are classified in different ways. There are questions that are about basic skills (Knowing), questions set in context (Applying) and questions that require a bit more reasoning (Reasoning). Not all students take all the assessment items, as that would be too much. Statistical methods are used to generate a score for each participating country. Some items are released to the public; these are called ‘released items’.

Typically, many East Asian countries score very well in these assessments. This is the starting point of this section. We want to see how well Asian countries do on TIMSS for Grade 4 and explain what this assessment involves. You will learn about TIMSS and try out some of the questions, especially those that Asian countries score particularly well on. You will get more insight into how Asia got so much attention regarding quality mathematics education.

In this section, we use materials from IEA.

  • Note that we adopt the country descriptions that the IEA uses; if we use the word ‘country’ we refer to jurisdictions as used in the TIMSS reports.
  • Copyright of the released items from the 2011 assessment is owned by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). Publisher: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College.
  • The 2015 data comes from the IEA. http://timss2015.org/download-center/

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This article is from the free online course:

World Class Maths: Asian Teaching Methods

Macmillan Education