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TIMSS: What it will take to lift maths and science learning?

The latest international survey shows that Australian students’ mathematics and science achievement levels continue to slide. So what it will take to lift them?

The latest Australian report on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) now gives us 20 years of data on mathematics and science achievement levels, and the results are not encouraging, says Professor Geoff Masters AO, Chief Executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Writing in Teacher Magazine, Professor Masters says the report, TIMSS 2015: A first look at Australia’s results, released by ACER, shows that average achievement levels in secondary schools continue to slide in comparison with performances in many other countries.

‘The gap between Australia and Singapore, the world’s highest performing country in Year 8 mathematics, widened between 1995 and 2015,’ Professor Masters writes in Teacher.

‘We have also been overtaken by a number of countries that we once outperformed, including the United States and England. Australia now performs below 12 other nations, including the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Slovenia.’

In Year 8 science, the gap between Australia and the highest-performing countries has also widened, and we are significantly outperformed by the US and England, as well as by a dozen other countries including the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Hungary.

Professor Masters notes there is some evidence of improvement in Year 4 mathematics levels, but given the vital importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for our future, we urgently need greater innovation and increased numbers of students studying mathematics and science in the senior secondary school.

So what it will take to lift maths and science learning? The answer, Professor Masters writes, lies in raising the effectiveness of classroom teaching, which in turn depends on teachers with high levels of mathematics and science knowledge implementing proven teaching strategies; and in better monitoring of students’ mathematics and science learning.

‘The 20-year slide in maths and science learning is a national challenge that requires a national response,’ Professor Masters writes. ‘We cannot afford another 20 years of stagnation.’ ■

Read the full article:
20-year slide in maths and science learning’, by Geoff Masters and published in Teacher, is available at < www.teachermagazine.com.au/geoff-masters >.

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