29 November, 2016 - Launch of major international study of Irish Students’ Performance in Mathematics and Science in TIMSS 2015

Minister Bruton welcomes publication of major international study on Irish students’ competences in maths and science  

Action Plan for Education contains ambitious action for further improvements in performance in maths and science

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, today (Tuesday 29th November) welcomed the strong overall performance of Irish students in a major international study of maths and science achievement in primary and post-primary schools. The results come from TIMSS 2015 (the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study). 

The report provides an international comparison of student achievement in maths and science at Fourth Class in primary and at Second Year of post-primary. In general, students in Ireland performed relatively well compared to the other countries participating in TIMSS 2015. Ireland’s mean scores were significantly above the international TIMSS centrepoint in maths and science at both grade levels.

While the trends contained in today’s results are encouraging, it is clear that there is still room for improvement in science and maths. The Action Plan for Education, which has the overall aim of making Ireland the best education and training service in Europe within a decade, outlines a series of ambitious actions to further improve our performance in maths and science, including introducing coding and computer science throughout the school curriculum, a comprehensive National Policy Statement on STEM in schools and ambitious new measures to upskill science and maths teachers.

The key findings of the report include:

  • Irish fourth class students ranked 9th out of 49 countries in maths (up from 17th out of 50 countries in 2011)
  • Irish fourth class students ranked 19th of 47 countries in science (broadly consistent with 22nd position out of the 50 countries that participated in 2011)
  • Irish second year students ranked 9th of 39 countries in maths, (there is no recent study with which to compare this)
  • Irish second year students ranked 10th of 39 countries in science  (there is no recent study with which to compare this)

Commenting on the report, Minister Bruton said:

“The basic aim of this Government is to sustain our economic progress and use it to build a fair and compassionate society. No area is more important to this vision than education, which has a crucial role both in breaking cycles of disadvantage and also in providing the skills needs to sustain a growing economy. That is why we have published and started implementing an Action Plan aimed at making Ireland the best education service in Europe.

“The report published today is an important measure of the progress that we are making along that road. While there has been some progress, it is clear that we have a long way to go if we are to achieve our ambition of being the best in Europe.

“While the trends being published today are encouraging - in particular improved results in fourth class maths and science and in second year science – it is still clear that there is major room for improvement in maths and science.”

 “The results from TIMSS 2015 point us to areas that we need to focus on, including how we can stretch the performance of higher-achieving students and how we can better develop students’ cognitive skills and knowledge of content areas such asGeometry and Physics.”

The Minister commended the report’s authors and thanked all of the students, teachers, principals and parents who took part in the study and responded to the questionnaires.

Dr Aidan Clerkin, one of the report’s authors, said that“the improvements in maths and science performance that we see here, compared to previous studies, are encouraging. Improvements are particularly notable among lower-achieving students.  However, there is room to improve among higher-achieving students, who appear to be underperforming in Ireland relative to their counterparts in some other countries.”

Rachel Perkins, another of the authors, noted that“we are seeing some level of consistency in the relative strengths and weaknesses of primary and post-primary students in Ireland. For example, students in Ireland are showing relative weaknesses in Geometry and Physics, and relative strengths in Number and Earth science, at both Fourth Class and Second Year.”


A note on reporting performance ‎

All TIMSS scores are reported on a scale which is set to a ‘centrepoint’ of 500. This is not an international average for TIMSS 2015, which is not reported by the international consortium that runs TIMSS.  Instead, the centrepoint (500) was set during the first TIMSS assessment in 1995.  It is used as a constant reference point against which countries can monitor changes in their performance over time.

About TIMSS 2015

The report – TIMSS 2015 in Ireland: Mathematics and science in primary and post-primary ‎schools – was written by Dr Aidan Clerkin, Rachel Perkins and Rachel Cunningham, of the Educational Research Centre.

TIMSS is organised by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), a non-profit organisation based in The Hague, Netherlands.  At an international level, the study is managed by the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Centre in Boston College, USA.  The International Study Centre works collaboratively with the various National Research Centres which are responsible for managing each country’s participation in TIMSS at a national level.  In Ireland, the Educational Research Centre (ERC) fulfilled this role on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills (DES).

By assessing students’ maths and science performance at both primary and post-primary levels, TIMSS provides detailed comparisons of the relative achievements, strengths, and weaknesses of education systems in the various participating countries.  The study operates on a four-year cycle, with the first administration taking place in 1995.  TIMSS 2015 is the sixth iteration.  Ireland has taken part in TIMSS twice previously: in 1995 (at both primary and post-primary levels) and in 2011 (at primary level only).

In 2015, more than 582,000 students from 57 countries[1] participated in total.  Thirty-one countries (and seven benchmarking ‎participants), including Ireland, participated at both primary and post-primary level. Benchmarking participants are sub-national regions or entities which must follow the same procedures and meet the same data quality standards as countries in order to participate (e.g., the province of Ontario, Canada, or the state of Florida, USA). 

In Ireland, the TIMSS assessment took place in schools in April and May 2015.  The ‎assessment was administered by teachers in participating schools.  At Fourth Class, 72 ‎minutes was allocated to testing, compared to 90 minutes at Second Year.  A short break ‎was given in the middle of the tests at both grade levels.  After the tests, and generally on ‎the same day, students completed questionnaires, which took about 30 minutes.  Each student completed one of 14 test booklets, each of which ‎contained questions on maths and science. ‎

Current and forthcoming national reports

The report released today – TIMSS 2015 in Ireland: Mathematics and science in primary and post-primary ‎schools – describes the maths and science achievement of students in both Fourth Class and Second Year, for both maths and science.  It focuses on the results of the tests, and contains information on mean (average) performance, the distribution of performance (e.g., how higher- and lower-achieving students in Ireland compare to their peers in other countries), the percentage of students reaching each of four internationally-defined Benchmarks of achievement, and areas of relative strength and weakness in the performance of students in Ireland.  It also contains a comparison of the Irish curricula for maths and science at each grade level against the content of the TIMSS assessment, in order to examine how much of the assessment students in Ireland might have been expected to have covered by the time of testing.

In 2017, a number of contextual reports will be published by the Educational ‎Research Centre that will examine the educational context in Ireland more broadly, together with ‎associations between contextual factors and student achievement.  These reports will use ‎the detailed information provided by students, parents, principals and teachers, together ‎with national-level structural factors, to provide a more complete snapshot of maths ‎and science education in Ireland.‎

See More Information

[1] In 2015, 57 countries participated in TIMSS. However data for Armenia are not available and so only 56 countries are included in the international results.  Without Armenia, thirty countries participated at both grade levels.