Research in Science Education

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 221–238

Why Students Answer TIMSS Science Test Items the Way They Do

  • Ann Harlow
  • Alister Jones

DOI: 10.1023/B:RISE.0000033761.79449.56

Cite this article as:
Harlow, A. & Jones, A. Research in Science Education (2004) 34: 221. doi:10.1023/B:RISE.0000033761.79449.56


The purpose of this study was to explore how Year 8 students answered Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) questions and whether the test questions represented the scientific understanding of these students. One hundred and seventy-seven students were tested using written test questions taken from the science test used in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. The degree to which a sample of 38 children represented their understanding of the topics in a written test compared to the level of understanding that could be elicited by an interview is presented in this paper. In exploring student responses in the interview situation this study hoped to gain some insight into the science knowledge that students held and whether or not the test items had been able to elicit this knowledge successfully. We question the usefulness and quality of data from large-scale summative assessments on their own to represent student scientific understanding and conclude that large scale written test items, such as TIMSS, on their own are not a valid way of exploring students' understanding of scientific concepts. Considerable caution is therefore needed in exploiting the outcomes of international achievement testing when considering educational policy changes or using TIMSS data on their own to represent student understanding.

elementary science science learning science teaching testing TIMSS 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann Harlow
    • 1
  • Alister Jones
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WaikatoNew Zealand