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The TIMSS Mathematics and Science Assessments

The TIMSS Mathematics Assessment

The TIMSS mathematics assessment is organized around two dimensions: (1) a content dimension specifying the subject matter to be assessed and (2) a cognitive dimension specifying the cognitive or thinking processes to be assessed. At grade 4, TIMSS assesses student knowledge in three content domains: number, geometric shapes and measures, and data display. At grade 8, TIMSS assesses student knowledge in four content domains: number, algebra, geometry, and data and chance. At both grades (and across all content domains), TIMSS assesses students' mathematical thinking in three cognitive domains: knowing, applying, and reasoning.

The proportion of item score points devoted to a content domain—and, therefore, the contribution of the content domain to the overall mathematics scale score—differs somewhat across grades (see the table below). For example, in 2015, 52 percent of the TIMSS mathematics assessment at grade 4 focused on the number content domain, while the analogous percentage at grade 8 was 31 percent. The proportion of items devoted to each cognitive domain was similar across grades.

In order to give students the best opportunity to operate in settings that mirror their classroom experience, TIMSS permits calculator use at the eighth grade (as it has since 2003). Thus, in education systems in which calculators are typically used in classroom activities, students can be encouraged to use them on TIMSS. However, if calculators are not typically used or permitted in the classroom, an education system need not permit their use on TIMSS.

The TIMSS Science Assessment

The TIMSS science assessment is similarly organized around two dimensions: (1) a content dimension specifying the subject matter to be assessed and (2) a cognitive dimension specifying the cognitive or thinking processes to be assessed. At grade 4, TIMSS assesses student knowledge in three content domains: life science, physical science, and Earth science. At grade 8, TIMSS assesses student knowledge in four content domains: biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth science. At both grades (and across all content domains), TIMSS assesses students' scientific thinking in three cognitive domains: knowing, applying, and reasoning.

The proportion of item score points devoted to a content domain—and, therefore, the contribution of the content domain to the overall science scale score—differs somewhat across grades (see the table below). For example, in 2015, 46 percent of the TIMSS science assessment at grade 4 focused on the life sciencedomain, while the analogous percentage at grade 8 was 36 percent. The proportion of items devoted to each cognitive domain was similar across grades.

For more detailed descriptions of the range of content and cognitive domains assessed in TIMSS, see the TIMSS 2015 Assessment Frameworks. The development and validation of the mathematics cognitive domains are detailed in IEA's TIMSS 2003 International Report on Achievement in the Mathematics Cognitive Domains: Findings From a Developmental Project.

Table A. Percentage of TIMSS mathematics and science assessment score points devoted to content and cognitive domains, by grade: 2015

Mathematics content and cognitive domains
Grade 4 Grade 8
Content domains Percent of
assessment
Content domains Percent of
assessment
Number 52 Number 31
Geometric shapes and measures 32 Algebra 28
Data display 15 Geometry 21
    Data and chance 21
Cognitive domains Percent of
assessment
Cognitive domains Percent of
assessment
Knowing 36 Knowing 31
Applying 44 Applying 45
Reasoning 20 Reasoning 24
Science content and cognitive domains
Grade 4 Grade 8
Content domains Percent of
assessment
Content domains Percent of
assessment
Life science 46 Biology 36
Physical science 35 Chemistry 19
Earth science 19 Physics 24
    Earth science 21
Cognitive domains Percent of
assessment
Cognitive domains Percent of
assessment
Knowing 41 Knowing 36
Applying 38 Applying 41
Reasoning 21 Reasoning 23
NOTE: The percentages in this table are based on the number of score points, not the number of items. The number of score points and the number of items are not the same because some constructed-response items are worth more than one score point. (For the corresponding percentages based on the number of items, see the Technical Notes [forthcoming].) The content domains define the specific mathematics and science subject matter covered by the assessment, and the cognitive domains define the sets of thinking processes students are likely to use as they engage with the respective subject's content. Each content domain has several topic areas. Each topic area is presented as a list of objectives covered in a majority of participating education systems, at either grade 4 or 8. However, the cognitive domains of mathematics and science are defined by the same three sets of expected processing behaviors—knowing, applying, and reasoning. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., and Hooper, M. (Eds.). (2016). Methods and Procedures in TIMSS 2015. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.