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Getting ready for International Education benchmarking

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

THE Malaysian primary and secondary education system will come under the spotlight next Tuesday when the TIMMS 2015 (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) result is released.

Either more good news or bad news will ensue one week later, when the result of the PISA 2015 (Programme for International Student Assessment) is released.

TIMMS is a large-scale survey to give an international overview on the teaching and learning in mathematics and science so that participating countries can make informed decisions about educational policy and practice. TIMSS conducts comprehensive assessments of mathematics and science for students in Year 4 and Year 8 (Form 2 in the Malaysian context), while taking into account data about country, school, and classroom learning environments.

First conducted in 1995, TIMSS reports every four years on the achievements of Year 4 and Year 8, and Malaysia has been participating in this exercise since 1999 by allowing its Form 2 students to be assessed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), which in turn is directed by the TIMSS International Study Center at Boston College of the United States in collaboration with the network of organisations and representatives from participating countries.

In 2015, TIMMS surveyed the education systems across 39 countries, and in the case of Malaysia, the researchers randomly chose 9,726 students from 207 schools.

Meanwhile, PISA is administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on 15-year-old pupils from more than 80 economies to determine their performance in mathematics, science, and reading.

In 2015, PISA assessors chose 9,660 students from 230 schools, also in random fashion to ensure good representation when Malaysia was compared to 71 other economies in the round of assessment focusing on science.

According to Dr Ahmad Rafee Che Kassim, deputy director at the Education Ministry’s Educational Planning and Research Division, these international benchmarking exercises are very different compared to school-based assessments (such as UPSR and SPM) as the latter are nationwide exercises involving everyone.

“TIMMS and PISA are about sampling a cohort of students, with the students chosen on a random basis by the agencies behind TIMMS and PISA.

When the results are announced, it can be extrapolated to the whole cohort. However, there won’t be factors like which one is the best performing state or school as it (global benchmarking) is not that kind of exercise,” he said in an interview last week at the ministry accompanied by his fellow deputy director from the same division, Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim.

For Dr Habibah, TIMMS 2015 is a test not just for students, but also for the primary and secondary education system.

“This was because the 2015 assessment came two years after we implemented the Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013-2025), where things like Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) were introduced. We shall see the outcome of this soon,” she said.

The Education Ministry’s cautious optimism at the impending release of these two global indices is understandable, as the country did not fare too well in the TIMMS 2011 and PISA 2012 cycles.

“Earlier on, we were above the international average (in TIMMS) by being in the top one-third of the grouping. But in 2011, we slid down to the bottom third, and that became a push factor for us. Our target is to claw our way back to the top-third by 2025. If we can see improvements in the latest results, it would be a great achievement for us,” said Dr Habibah.

In TIMMS 2011, Malaysia came out in the 26th place for Mathematics, and 32nd for Science, when compared to 44 other countries – placing


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