Thursday 13 December 2012

Singapore pupils top tests, score higher in reasoning: TIMSS and PIRLS 2011

Weaker students also doing better in two global benchmarking studies
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2012

SINGAPORE'S primary and secondary school students remain world beaters in mathematics, science and reading, according to two international benchmarking studies released yesterday.

The test scores showed that not only did Singapore increase its share of top performers, but the weaker students also moved up, improving their scores.

And the way Singapore students approached the questions in the most recent tests indicates they are moving away from rote learning and applying higher-order thinking skills.

The results validate the approach adopted by the Ministry of Education (MOE) more than a decade ago to trim syllabuses and allow more time for teachers to develop critical thinking skills in their students.

At the time, some parents and educators wondered if Singapore would be able to maintain its pole position in international benchmarking tests.

A total of 12,500 Singapore students sat the tests held last year, and across the academic streams they achieved higher scores than those who took the tests in 2006 and 2007.

In the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Singapore's 10-year-olds in Primary 4 achieved the highest mean score of 606 in mathematics, beating South Korea and Hong Kong, and the second-highest score of 583 in science, behind South Korea.

Secondary 2 students who took the test were ranked No. 1 in science and No. 2 in mathematics.

In the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study that measured the literacy of 10-year-olds, Singapore was ranked fourth, after Hong Kong, Russia and Finland.

MOE, which did a further analysis of student scores in TIMSS, said the test measured ability in three areas - knowing, applying and reasoning. Compared with the 2007 batch, Singapore students scored less when it came to questions that measured how much they knew.

The scores for application-type questions inched up, but their scores showed a big improvement in questions that required them to have reasoning ability.

Similarly, in the literacy test, Singapore students improved in the higher-order "interpreting, integrating and evaluating" skills as opposed to their ability to retrieve information and do straightforward inferencing.

MOE attributed the development of higher-order thinking skills to the syllabus cuts and the shift towards more inquiry-based teaching and learning in schools.

Back in the late 1990s, and again in 2004, with the adoption of the "Teach Less, Learn More" approach, subject syllabuses were trimmed. At the time, MOE stuck to its guns, saying that trimming content would allow more time for lessons encouraging students to learn more actively and independently.

MOE said yesterday that the test results also highlighted the levelling up of academically weaker students. The proportion of students with the lowest score of below 400 was much smaller than the international average.

For example, in the Primary 4 mathematics test, only 1 per cent of Singapore students scored below 400. The international average was 18 per cent.

Efforts to help weaker pupils bear fruit
MOE credits various schemes with helping them level up with peers
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2012

SINGAPORE has made great strides in helping weaker students in maths, science and reading.

Teachers yesterday celebrated Singapore's good performance in two international benchmarking studies, but especially because weaker students showed a marked improvement.

Results were released yesterday in the two studies - the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.

The proportion of students in Primary 4 and Secondary 2 with the lowest scores of below 400 is smaller compared with previous years, and considerably smaller than the international average (see table).

For instance, only 3 per cent of Primary 4 pupils in Singapore performed below the "low" benchmark last year in reading, compared with 10 per cent in 2001.

In maths, 1 per cent of Secondary 2 students scored below the "low" benchmark, compared with 27 per cent internationally.

About 12,500 Primary 4 and Secondary 2 students in Singapore participated in the tests. Students across all schools and streams were included in the sample.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) attributed the improvements to "intensified efforts to help academically weaker students in recent years".

This includes early intervention initiatives such as the Learning Support Programme and the Learning Support for Mathematics, broad-based efforts such as the Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading (Stellar) in primary schools, and also support for students in the normal stream in secondary schools.

The learning support programmes help pupils who enter Primary 1 with weak literacy and numeracy skills so that they can catch up with their peers.

Under Stellar, grammar and vocabulary are taught through stories and texts that appeal to children, instead of through textbooks and worksheets.

"We have noticed weaker students progress at a much faster rate. When the books are colourful and the teacher reads the book to them more than once, they are enticed to read more," said Madam Dalvindar Kaur, head of the English department at Princess Elizabeth Primary School.

Ms Deepa Sivasothy, head of the department of mathematics at Ang Mo Kio Secondary, said that one of the ways her school helps the weaker students in maths is through journal writing.

In their journals, they have to explain why they used a particular method to solve a question. She said this helps teachers better understand where their students need more help.

"It is the whole essence of education that we take care of everyone and ensure that no one is left behind," said Ms Deepa.

At the Secondary 2 level, 48 per cent of Singapore students attained the "advanced" benchmark for mathematics, which means they scored 625 and above.

For science, at Secondary 2, 40 per cent scored above 625.

In reading, 24 per cent of Primary 4 pupils attained the "advanced" benchmark.

Most countries had only about 10 per cent of such students.

The MOE spokesman said: "Unlike some other education systems, even as we helped to raise the performance of academically weaker students, we have at the same time improved the outcomes for academically stronger students."

The two tests
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2012

SINGAPORE has participated in every cycle of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) since their inception in 1995 and 2001 respectively.

TIMSS measures the achievement of Primary 4 and Secondary 2 students in maths and science, while PIRLS measures Primary 4 pupils' achievements in reading literacy.

The PIRLS test required pupils to read two passages and answer multiple-choice and written-response questions.

TIMSS follows a four-year cycle, while PIRLS follows a five-year cycle.

TIMSS 2011 involved 50 and 42 education systems from around the world at Primary 4 and Secondary 2 respectively, while 45 education systems participated in PIRLS 2011.

In Singapore, about 6,500 Primary 4 pupils from all primary schools took part in TIMSS and PIRLS, while about 6,000 Secondary 2 students from all secondary schools took part in TIMSS.

The samples were subject to strict oversight and audit by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

All results were then weighted accordingly to provide valid national-level estimates.

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