# WHAT CHARACTERIZES THE ALGEBRAIC COMPETENCE OF NORWEGIAN UPPER SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS? EVIDENCE FROM TIMSS ADVANCED

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## Abstract

Algebra is the fundamental language of mathematics, and a profound understanding of school algebra is an important prerequisite for further studies in mathematical sciences. The aim of this study is to characterize the algebraic competence of the Norwegian upper secondary school students participating in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Advanced. Based on theoretical conceptualizations of school algebra (Kieran, 2004) and of mathematical competence (Niss & Højgaard, 2011), a set of item descriptors have here been developed. Each of the algebra items in the TIMSS Advanced mathematics test have then been evaluated with respect to these descriptors, and correlations between student performance and item descriptors have been calculated. The results show that Norwegian upper secondary school students tend to perform weakly on items that place high demands on symbol manipulation. Furthermore, these students’ strength is in tasks that are placed in an extra-mathematical (applied) context, that require text comprehension, where students are expected to generate the mathematical expressions needed to find a solution, but that place low demands on student ability to manipulate symbolic expressions. Hence, the results of this study suggests that if Norwegian upper secondary school students’ mastery of algebra is to be promoted, it seems reasonable to devote more teaching resources to the transformational aspects of algebraic activity, i.e. to developing their ability to efficiently manipulate symbolic expressions.

## Key words

algebra competence item analysis TIMSS Advanced upper secondary school## Preview

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