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International Mathematics And Science Study

New Zealand Year 9 students are above average in science and about average in mathematics compared to 37 other countries, an international study shows.

“Our students generally have a positive attitude towards maths and science, and they have a high self concept of their ability in these areas,” Education Minister Trevor Mallard said today.

“However, when the results of tests carried out in 1998 are compared with those from 1994 it shows that while we have stayed the same, other countries such as Canada and Australia have improved in science.

"This highlights my concern that we need to keep up and move ahead internationally. Our adults of the future need to be able to meet the demands of a knowledge society which is global."

The new results are from a repeat of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, originally carried out in 1994/95, to assess the ability of students in year 9 or their equivalent.

New Zealand performance for both mathematics and science in 1998 was not substantially different from that achieved in 1994. Among the 23 countries taking part in both studies, our relative performance is similar for both mathematics and science.

“Overall, the results also indicate that while our better students were doing as well as their counterparts in 1994/95, our poorer achieving students were not doing as well,” Trevor Mallard said.

"The study reinforces the need to raise achievement for all students, and in particular those at risk."

Trevor Mallard said while a range of resources and initiatives for maths and science were now in place or in development following the work of the 1997 Mathematics and Science Taskforce, these will have had very little impact on the 1998 results.

Those initiatives included additional published resources, maths and science web-sites giving teachers access to quality curriculum material, professional development for teachers, particularly in the area of numeracy, and the development of mathematics and science exemplars.

"The task in hand is to find out whether these will be enough to make differences and what more work can be done to improve our students’ knowledge and understanding in maths and science."

Trevor Mallard said he was pleased the latest results showed that New Zealand principals spent more than the international average time on providing leadership in teaching and learning for staff. He was, however, concerned about the 83 hours they spent on administrative duties, compared with the international mean of 51 hours.

"Our principals are doing a fine job, but we obviously need to try to help them reduce the time they spend on administration. The Ministry of Education has been working with school principals in this area over the past year and I’m confident that gains have been made since this study was completed. However, we could also look to better use of information technology and rationalisation of reporting so that our principals are able to devote a greater amount of time to professional leadership. In this way, we will improve students’ learning. ”

The latest maths and science study collected extensive data about the home, classroom, school and national contexts in which maths and science learning takes place.

Results looked at the relationships between these contexts and student achievement.

These showed:

 New Zealand had the sixth highest proportion of students (18%) to report they were from homes with more than 100 books, three educational aids in the home (computer, their own study desk/table, and dictionary) and at least one parent who had completed a university education. Although these students scored higher than other students in New Zealand it is interesting to note that Singapore (one of the higher scoring countries) had only 5% of students with these home educational resources.

 51% of year 9 students were taught mathematics by teachers with mathematics as their major area of tertiary study compared with 84% internationally.

 74% of year 9 students were being taught science by teachers with a major in a science or science education from their tertiary study compared with 82% internationally.

 Relatively high proportions of New Zealand year 9 students were in schools reporting little or no effect on school's capacity to deliver instruction in mathematics or science arises from resource shortages within schools. (The shortages looked at were either of a general nature or of those specifically related to mathematics and science.)


 The international results for the Year 9 group are to be released by the TIMSS-R International Study Centre based at Boston College in the United States. The results are embargoed until 6 am, Wednesday 6 December New Zealand time.
 An international press release will be available from the TIMSS-R web-site from about this time. The web-site can be reached at: or at
 A summary report for New Zealand will be available on Wednesday 6 December at
 In 1998, New Zealand participated in TIMSS-R, a partial replication of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (1994-1995).
 TIMSS-R is designed to measure trends in student performance as well as providing trend information on the contexts for learning mathematics and science.
 The international component of TIMSS-R involved about 3600 New Zealand Year 9 students and their mathematics and science teachers.
 The Year 9 student cohort in 1998 was in standard 3 (Year 5) in 1994. This Year 5 cohort performed well below the TIMSS international average.


New Zealand Year 9 students performed around the international mean for mathematics. This was similar to their counterparts in the United States and England, but significantly below those of Singapore, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and Malaysia.


New Zealand Year 9 students performed at a level above the international mean for science. This was similar to their counterparts in the United States and Malaysia, but significantly below those of Singapore, the Netherlands, Australia, England, and Canada.

Trends in achievement

New Zealand students’ mean performance in mathematics was slightly lower in 1998 than in 1994. This decrease was not statistically significant. New Zealand's relative performance compared to other countries was about the same.
New Zealand students’ mean performance in science was about the same in 1998 as in 1994. New Zealand's relative performance compared to 22 other countries from both studies was similar to 1994.

Trends in cohort achievement

The mean mathematics achievement of Year 9 students increased marginally in relative terms from that of Year 5 students in 1994.

The mean science achievement of Year 9 students decreased slightly in relative terms from that of Year 5 students in 1994 mainly due to improvements in other countries including Canada, Hungary and Australia.

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