International Study of Achievement Previewed

By Peter West — March 02, 1994 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

San Francisco

Participants at a session of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting here last week got an advance view of what is expected to be the most comprehensive and accurate international comparison ever conducted of student achievement in science and mathematics.

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study, which will be administered by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, will measure the abilities of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 from more than 50 countries.

Researchers told attendees that the results will not only provide a benchmark of student achievement worldwide, but will also offer greater insight into the strengths and weaknesses of different educational systems.

“We do not intend to make this a simple horse race that can be printed in USA Today to the delight of editorial writers,’' said Albert E. Beaton, a researcher with the Center for the Study of Testing who is helping develop the exam.

Although it is inevitable that the public will try to rank American students against their counterparts, panelists said, it is vital that the data collected be closely scrutinized for clues about which pedagogies are most successful and why.

“It is important when the TIMSS data come out that they be used in a thoughtful way’’ and not as an “intellectual Olympiad,’' said Dorothy M. Guilford, a National Academy of Sciences official who moderated the session.

‘Equally Unfair’ Questions

Students in the targeted grades, or the equivalent levels, will take the exam next fall if they live in the Southern Hemisphere. In spring 1995, students in Northern Hemisphere nations will take the test.

Steps will be taken to insure compatibility of student age ranges. For example, the 4th-grade test will be administered to students in the two grade levels in each country that contain the most 9-year-olds. Similar cohorts will be sampled at each grade level.

The new approach to age grouping is expected to correct a weakness of other international assessments, panelists explained.

In other internationally administered tests, the researchers said, the performance of U.S. high school students, who constitute roughly 75 percent of their age cohort, has sometimes been compared with results from countries where only the top 15 percent of students attend high school.

The test developers also have made stringent efforts to insure that the test is “equally unfair’’ to all students, said William Schmidt, the TIMSS project director.

The exam will include questions that represent “a union’’ of all the topics included in the curricula of many nations, rather than simply testing only those elements common to all.

Another element that can affect the fairness of the exam is the quality of the translation of test questions, noted Ronald K. Hambleton, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts.

Cultural Differences

But cultural considerations are also important in international assessments, Mr. Hambleton said.

Some nations appear to take international comparisons more seriously than others, he said.

In one country, before a previous exam, he said, “The students were marched into the auditorium, flags waving, and told they had the honor of representing their country.’'

Test questions also can reveal cultural bias. One prototype question presented students with an illustration of a book, with a bookmark inserted at a page roughly a third of the way from the start.

Students were told how long the reader had taken to reach that point, and then asked to project how long it would take to finish if the book was read at a constant rate.

But the “correct’’ answer for European and American students was different for those from cultures in which books are read, in Western eyes, from back to front, Mr. Hambleton pointed out.

Moreover, because the test includes some performance evaluations in which students conduct experiments, the materials had to be as inexpensive as possible.

To help counter the problems created by cultural and economic differences, TIMSS officials plan to have bilingual researchers live in the tested countries for eight months. The researchers will observe and videotape school classes to get a sense of how students are taught as well as how they do on the test. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1994.)

A version of this article appeared in the March 02, 1994 edition of Education Week as International Study of Achievement Previewed

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP