Secondary students score in math, science

by Gavin Wilson
Staff writer

Canadian students score near the top of the class in math and science skills, according to a survey of senior secondary students in 24 countries released by UBC researchers.

Students from across Canada were among those tested in the latest round of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The results compare students in their last year of secondary school: Grade 12 in most provinces, Grade 12 and Ontario Academic Credits (OAC) in Ontario, and second and third year of CEGEP in Quebec.

"The results indicate that the achievement of Canadian students in math and science compares favorably to that of other countries, including our major trading partners," said Prof. David Robitaille, international co-ordinator of TIMSS and head of UBC's Dept. of Curriculum Studies in the Faculty of Education.

One part of the study looked at math and science literacy for all students, testing how much they knew and could apply. The study also surveyed physics and math skills among students studying these subjects at an advanced level.

In math and science literacy, Canadian students did as well as or better than students from 17 of the 20 countries taking part in the literacy component of the study. Scores for B.C., Alberta and Ontario were at the same level as Canada as a whole, while the literacy score was lower in New Brunswick.

Canadian students also performed strongly in advanced mathematics, doing as well as or better than students from 13 of the 15 countries taking part in the math component. Scores for Alberta and Ontario were at the same level as Canada's, while B.C.'s score was significantly lower.

Canada performed considerably less well in physics. Canadian student performance on the physics test was as good as or better than that of students from nine of the 15 countries taking part in the physics component. Alberta and Ontario students were at the same level as the Canadian average, while B.C. students performed significantly better.

The study also compared scores of the top five per cent of students. Canada's top five per cent scored significantly above the international average in both advanced math and in math and science literacy. Their scores were essentially the same as the international average in physics. Canada was the only G-8 country whose top students achieved two scores above the international average in this part of the study.

TIMSS is the largest international study of student achievement ever undertaken. Half a million students at five grade levels in 40 countries have been tested. The most recent results complement those released in 1996 for Grade 8 students and last year for Grade 4.

Funding for Canadian participation and international co-ordination of the study was provided by Human Resources Development Canada, Industry Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Education.