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Frequently Asked Questions

In addition to the following questions about TIMSS, more FAQs about international assessments are available at: http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/international/faqs.asp.

  1. Who is in charge of TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced?
  2. Can my school sign up to participate in these assessments?
  3. How are representative samples of students selected?
  4. How many U.S. schools and students participated in previous TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced cycles?
  5. What countries have participated and have there been changes in the countries participating in these assessments?
  6. If the makeup of the countries changes across the years, how can one compare countries to an international average?
  7. What areas of mathematics and science are assessed in TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced?
  8. How do the results of TIMSS compare with the results in PISA?
  9. How do the results of TIMSS Advanced compare with the results in PISA?
  10. How does the mathematics and science achievement of U.S. students on TIMSS compare with achievement on NAEP?
  11. How do the TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced assessments differ from other international assessments and NAEP?
  12. Can you directly compare TIMSS scores at grade 4 with scores at grade 8? Can you directly compare TIMSS Advanced scores with TIMSS scores at grade 4 and/or grade 8?
  13. On TIMSS in 2015, why do U.S. boys outperform girls in mathematics at grade 4 but not at grade 8, yet U.S. boys outperform girls in science at both grade levels? Why aren't differences between the sexes more consistent?
  14. When are TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced data collected?
  15. Where can I get a copy of the TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced U.S. Report?
  16. When are the assessments scheduled to be administered next?
  17. Can my state or school district sign up to obtain its own TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced results, independent of the U.S. results?
  18. Where do the test questions and background questions come from that are used in TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced?
  19. Were there any significant changes in the gender scores for math and science achievement in TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced?
  20. How does TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced take into account the differing mathematics and science curriculum standards that can occur within an individual country, as well as mathematics and science curriculum differences on an international level?
  21. How does TIMSS align with the Common Core State Standards in mathematics in the United States?

1. Who is in charge of TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the U.S. Department of Education, is responsible for conducting TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced in the United States and for representing the United States in international collaboration on these assessments.

The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) coordinates TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced internationally. The IEA is an independent international cooperative of national research institutions and government agencies with nearly 70 member countries worldwide. The IEA has a permanent secretariat based in Amsterdam, and a data processing and research center in Hamburg, known as the IEA Data Processing Center (DPC).

The IEA contracts with the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College to lead the design and implementation of TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced. The TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center works with country representatives, called National Research Coordinators, to design and implement these assessments, assure quality control and international comparability, and report results. The U.S. National Research Coordinator is Stephen Provasnik of NCES. Data collection for TIMSS 2015 and TIMSS Advanced 2015 within the United States is done under contract with WESTAT, Inc.

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2. Can my school sign up to participate in these assessments?

Schools cannot sign up to participate in these assessments as part of the national U.S. sample. It is important for fair comparisons across education systems that each country only includes in its national sample those schools and students that are scientifically sampled by the international contractor to fairly represent the country. Moreover, given the design of TIMSS, no individual school scores can be calculated.

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3. How are representative samples of students selected?

TIMSS requires participating education systems to draw probability samples of students who were nearing the end of their fourth or eighth year of formal schooling, counting from the first year of primary schooling. For TIMSS 2015 in the United States, one sample was drawn to represent the nation at grade 4 and another at grade 8. The U.S. national sample included both public and private schools, randomly selected and weighted to be representative of the nation at grade 4 and at grade 8. Specifically, the study, utilized a two-stage stratified cluster sampling design. The first stage made use of a systematic probability-proportionate-to-size (PPS) technique to select schools. The second stage of sampling consisted of selecting classrooms within sampled schools. At the classroom level, TIMSS samples intact mathematics classes that are available to students in the target grades. For TIMSS 2015, two classrooms were selected per school in the United States, where feasible. In U.S. schools containing only one class, this class was selected.

TIMSS Advanced requires participating education systems to draw probability samples of students in their final year of secondary schools who were taking or had taken courses in advanced mathematics or who were taking or have taken courses in physics. For TIMSS Advanced 2015, in the United States, two samples of twelfth-graders were drawn to represent the nation—one for advanced mathematics and one for physics. The U.S. national samples included both public and private schools, randomly selected and weighted to be representative of the nation's advanced mathematics and physics students at the end of high school. Specifically, the study, utilized a two-stage stratified cluster sampling design. The first stage made use of a systematic probability-proportionate-to-size (PPS) technique to select schools. The second stage of sampling consisted of selecting students rather than classrooms within sampled schools.

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4. How many U.S. schools and students participated in previous TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced cycles?

At grade 4

Assessment year Number of participating
schools
Number of participating
students
Overall weighted response
rate (percent)
1995 182 7,296 80
2003 248 9,829 78
2007 257 7,896 84
2011 369 12,569 80
2015 250 10,029 81

At grade 8

Assessment year Number of participating
schools
Number of participating
students
Overall weighted response
rate (percent)
1995 183 7,087 78
1999 221 9,072 85
2003 232 8,912 73
2007 239 7,377 77
2011 501 10,477 81
2015 246 10,221 78

At grade 12

Assessment year Number of participating
schools
Number of participating
students
Overall weighted response
rate (percent)
1995      
   Advanced mathematics 199 2,349 67
   Physics 203 2,678 68
2015      
   Advanced mathematics 241 2,954 66
   Physics 165 2,932 58

NOTE: The overall weighted response rate is the product of the school participation rate, after replacement, and the student participation rate, after replacement. There was no grade 4 assessment in 1999.

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5. What countries have participated and have there been changes in the countries participating in these assessments?

There have been changes in the participation of education systems across TIMSS cycles. To conveniently compare these differences, the NCES TIMSS website provides a table of all TIMSS participating countries and sub-national education systems for each of the TIMSS years of administration. Please follow this link to view the table.

For a table of all participating countries and non-national education systems for each of the TIMSS Advanced years of administration, please follow this link.

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6. If the makeup of the countries changes across the years, how can one compare countries to an international average?

Due to the fact that the makeup of the participating countries changes in every administration, TIMSS uses the TIMSS scale centerpoint instead of the international average for consistent comparisons over time.

The TIMSS 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 centerpoint of 500 was set to correspond to the 1995 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 centerpoint as a point of reference that remains constant from assessment to assessment.

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7. What areas of mathematics and science are assessed in TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced?


At grade 4, TIMSS focuses on three domains of mathematics: At grade 4, TIMSS focuses on three domains of science:
Number (manipulating whole numbers and place values; performing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; and using fractions and decimals), Life science,
Geometric shapes and measures, and Physical science, and
Data display. Earth science.
At grade 8, TIMSS focuses on four domains of mathematics: At grade 8, TIMSS focuses on four domains of science:
Number, Biology,
Algebra, Chemistry,
Geometry, and Physics, and
Data and chance. Earth science.
At grade 12, TIMSS Advanced focuses on three domains of advanced mathematics: At grade 12, TIMSS Advanced focuses on three domains of advanced physics:
Algebra, Mechanics and thermodynamics,
Calculus, and Electricity and magnetism, and
Geometry. Wave phenomena and atomic/nuclear physics.

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8. How do the results of TIMSS compare with the results in PISA?

The results from TIMSS and PISA are difficult to compare because the assessments are so different in at least three key ways that could influence results. First, TIMSS assesses 8th- and 4th-graders, while PISA is an assessment of 15-year-old students, regardless of grade level. (In the United States, PISA data collection occurs in the autumn, when most 15-year-olds are in 10th grade.) So, the grade levels of students in PISA and TIMSS differ. Second, the knowledge and skills measured in the two assessments differ. TIMSS is intended to measure how well students have learned the mathematics and science curricula in participating countries, whereas PISA is focused on application of knowledge to "real-world" situations. Third, the participating countries in the two assessments differ. Both assessments cover much of the world, but they do not overlap neatly. Both assessments include key economic competitors and partners, but the overall makeups of the countries participating in the two assessments differ markedly. Thus, the "averages" used by the two assessments are in no way comparable, and the "rankings" often reported in media coverage of these two assessments are based on completely different sets of countries.

To learn more about how the TIMSS assessment differs from PISA as well as NAEP, see the following paper: Comparing TIMSS with NAEP and PISA in Mathematics and Science (2007) PDF (281 KB). 2015 version of this paper will be published and posted here as soon as it becomes available.

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9. How do the results of TIMSS Advanced compare with the results in PISA?

The results from TIMSS Advanced and PISA are difficult to compare because the assessments are different in ways similar to the differences between TIMSS and PISA. First, TIMSS Advanced and PISA assess two different student populations. TIMSS Advanced assesses students in their final year of secondary school (Grade 12 in the U.S.) who were taking or had taken courses in advanced mathematics or physics. PISA is an assessment of 15-year-old students, regardless of grade level. (In the United States, PISA data collection occurs in the autumn, when most 15-year-olds are in 10th grade.). Second, the knowledge and skills measured in the two assessments also differ. TIMSS Advanced is intended to measure how well students have learned the advanced mathematics and physics curricula in participating countries, whereas PISA is focused on application of knowledge to "real-world" situations. Third, the participating countries in the two assessments differ markedly. TIMSS Advanced covers less than a dozen countries while PISA include about 70 education systems.

NCES is planning to publish a paper about how the TIMSS Advanced assessment differs from PISA as well as NAEP. The paper will be posted here as soon as it becomes available.

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10 How does the mathematics and science achievement of U.S. students on TIMSS compare with achievement on NAEP?

Both TIMSS and NAEP provide a measure of fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics and science learning. Please see the tables below for a summary of the achievement score changes between the two assessments over the last 20 years.

NAEP and TIMSS Achievement Score Changes: Mathematics
  NAEP 1990-2015
TIMSS 1995-2015
NAEP 2007-2015
TIMSS 2007-2015
NAEP 2009-2015
TIMSS 2011-2015
NAEP 2013-2015
TIMSS 2011-2015
Grade 4
MATH
NAEP
TIMSS
Grade 8
MATH
NAEP
TIMSS

 

NAEP and TIMSS Achievement Score Changes: Science
  TIMSS 1995-2015 NAEP 2009-2015
TIMSS 2007-2015
NAEP 2011-2015
TIMSS 2011-2015
Grade 4
SCIENCE
NAEP    
TIMSS
Grade 8
SCIENCE
NAEP  
TIMSS

 

2015 score is lower
2015 score not measurably different
2015 score is higher

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11. How do the TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced assessments differ from other international assessments and NAEP?

The FAQs on how TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced compare to PISA and NAEP specifically provide a brief explanation of the differences between the assessments. To learn more about how the TIMSS assessment has differed in the past from PISA and NAEP, see the following papers:

Comparing TIMSS with NAEP and PISA in Mathematics and Science (2007) PDF (281 KB)
Comparison of TIMSS 2011 Items and the NAEP 2011 Framework (2011) PDF (756 KB)

New 2015 assessment comparisons for TIMSS with NAEP and PISA are currently still in production and will be published on the NCES website as soon as they are available.

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12. Can you directly compare TIMSS scores at grade 4 with scores at grade 8? Can you directly compare TIMSS Advanced scores with TIMSS scores at grade 4 and/or grade 8?

The scaling of TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced data is conducted separately for each grade and each content domain. While the scales were created to each have a mean of 500 and a standard deviation of 100, the subject matter and the level of difficulty of items necessarily differ between the assessments at both grades. Therefore, direct comparisons of scores across grades should not be made within any given year.

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13. On TIMSS in 2015, why do U.S. boys outperform girls in mathematics at grade 4 but not at grade 8, yet U.S. boys outperform girls in science at both grade levels? Why aren't differences between the sexes more consistent?

The seeming inconsistencies between the 2015 achievement scores of U.S. boys and girls in mathematics and science are not easily explainable. Research into differences in achievement by sex has been unable to offer any definitive explanation for these differences. For example, in examining sex differences primarily at the high school level Xie and Shauman (2003)1 found that "differences in mathematics and science achievement cannot be explained by the individual and familial influences that we examine." Indeed, that sex differences vary in the participating TIMSS countries some in favor of males and others in favor of females would appear to support the idea that the factors related to sex differences in mathematics and science achievement are complicated.

1 Xie, Y. & Shauman, K. (2003). Women in Science: Career Processes and Outcomes. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

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14. When are TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced data collected?

TIMSS operates on a 4-year cycle, with 1995 being the first year it was administered. Countries in the Northern Hemisphere conduct the assessment between April and June of the assessment year, while countries in the Southern Hemisphere conduct the assessment in October and November of the assessment year. In both hemispheres the assessment is conducted near the end of the school year.

TIMSS Advanced data was collected in 1995, 2008, and 2015. The United States did not participate in the 2008 administration of TIMSS Advanced, therefore the administration in 2015 was the first time TIMSS Advanced data were collected for the United States since 1995. There is no regular periodicity for the administration of TIMSS Advanced.

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15. Where can I get a copy of the TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced U.S. Report?

The most recent U.S. TIMSS report, Highlights From TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced 2015: Mathematics and Science Achievement of U.S. Students in Grades 4 and 8 and in Advanced Courses at the End of High School in an International Context, can be downloaded from the NCES website. Other U.S. reports for previous administrations of TIMSS can also be downloaded (see Reports under Publications & Products in the TIMSS section of the NCES website): http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/getpubcats.asp?sid=073.

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16. When are the assessments scheduled to be administered next?

TIMSS is scheduled to be administered next in 2019, with results to be reported at the end of 2020.

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17. Can my state or school district sign up to obtain its own TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced results, independent of the U.S. results?

Yes, states and large enough school districts can sign up to obtain their own TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced results at their own cost. Sample size restrictions apply. However, as is the case with the national sample, no school-level results are possible for these assessments because TIMSS is not designed to produce school-level estimates. Please contact Stephen Provasnik, the U.S. TIMSS National Research Coordinator, for more information.

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18. Where do the test questions and background questions come from that are used in TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced?

The TIMSS mathematics and science assessment items are created based on the TIMSS Assessment Frameworks, and are developed through an international consensus-building process involving input from experts in education, mathematics, science, and measurement. The development of the TIMSS items and scoring guides are the result of a widespread and intensive process of collaboration, piloting, and review among the participating countries.

TIMSS also administers background questionnaires to students, their teachers, and their school principals to better understand the contextual factors that affect students' learning. In 2015, for the first time, the fourth-grade TIMSS assessment included a home questionnaire for students' parents and caregivers that collected information about students' home backgrounds and early learning experiences. The United States did not participate in the TIMSS 2015 home questionnaire. TIMSS also administers curriculum questionnaires to specialists to collect information about educational policies and the national contexts that shape the content and implementation of the mathematics and science curricula across countries.

Although the majority of the assessment items, passages, and questionnaires are carried forward from the previous assessment cycle to measure trends, the task of updating the instruments for each new cycle—every four years for TIMSS since 1995—is a substantial undertaking. The Science and Mathematics Item Review Committee (SMIRC), comprised of internationally recognized mathematics and science experts, reviews and recommends updates to the Mathematics and Science Frameworks for each TIMSS administration. The SMIRC also reviews the TIMSS 2015 items at key points in the development process.

More information on the assessment design, general scoring method used for TIMSS, and item release policy can be found in Assessment Framework on the Methods and Procedures in TIMSS 2015 webpage.

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19. Were there any significant changes in the gender scores for math and science achievement in TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced?

For both mathematics and science, and for both grades 4 and 8, the gender gap remained statistically significant, with the exception of eighth-grade mathematics, which showed no measurable difference between male scores and female scores.

In TIMSS Advanced, males achieved higher scores than females in both advanced mathematics and physics.

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20. How does TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced take into account the differing mathematics and science curriculum standards that can occur within an individual country, as well as mathematics and science curriculum differences on an international level?

The central goal of TIMSS and TIMSS Advanced is to provide information for improving educational outcomes from both an individual education system and international perspective. Each of the TIMSS assessments also collect considerable amounts of descriptive data about the contexts for teaching and learning in participating countries from student, school, and teacher background questionnaires. Countries provide information about their educational systems and curricula in mathematics, science, and reading by completing a country-level curriculum questionnaire and writing a descriptive chapter based on a common outline created as part of the development process. This information is compiled in the TIMSS Encyclopedia, which describes the major aspects of teaching and learning in mathematics and science in each participant country. A significant portion of the development and review effort by National Research Coordinators is dedicated to ensuring that the passages, test items, and questionnaires can be translated accurately, and the assessment items can reasonably measure mathematics and science literacy skills of their education system's fourth-, eighth-, and advanced student sample populations. The TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center then prepares an international version in English of all the assessment instruments for TIMSS. Subsequently the test and questionnaire instruments are translated by participating countries into their languages of instruction with the goal of creating high quality translations that are appropriately adapted for the national context and at the same time are internationally comparable.

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21. How does TIMSS align with the Common Core State Standards in mathematics in the United States?

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed for grades K-12 in the United States to provide students with a common educational foundation across states and education systems. Currently the CCSS only provides standards for mathematics, which is one of the subjects assessed in TIMSS.

2015 assessment comparisons for TIMSS with the Common Core State Standards in mathematics are currently still in production and will be published on the NCES website as soon as they are available.

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