Timss: Bad news for Finland but Russia and Kazakhstan soar

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study raises more questions for Pisa star Finland

Helen Ward

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Finland has long been considered a star of international education rankings, but the latest results from Timss, published today, contain bad news for the Nordic country.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study shows that Finland dropped from 8th to 17th place in maths tests for 10-year-olds. The country’s average score also fell from 545 to 535.

In primary science, Finland’s score also dropped from 570 to 554 leading to it dropping from 3rd to 7th in the table of 57 countries. Finland's 14-year-olds were not entered in Timss.

Finnish education ministers will be hoping for better news from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) when it publishes its latest results next Tuesday.

Pisa vs Timss

Last week, one of the academics behind Timss acknowledged that some of the differences between Finland’s performance in Timss and Pisa – which tests 15-year-olds – may be to do with how the two studies are carried out (article free for subscribers).

"Finland doesn’t do quite as well on our assessments as it does on Pisa," Dr Michael Martin, co-director of Timss, told TES. "But that may be to do with the literacy emphasis in Pisa.

"There is a lot of reading in Pisa, not just in the reading assessment but in the science assessment and the mathematics assessment. So a country that does well in reading tends to have Pisa advantage."

Finland topped Pisa’s the reading scores in 2000, came second in maths in 2003, top in science in 2006, and third in reading in 2009. But it dropped several places in the 2012 results coming 12th in the main Pisa maths study.

Finland a 'red herring'

There has been growing scepticism in some quarters in about the suitability of Finland as an example to follow, with suggestions that it represents a "red herring" for England.

Tim Oates, the Cambridge Assessment research director who oversaw the last review of England’s national curriculum, has warned that Finland’s success is based on its education policy of 30 years ago, rather than its current system.

The latest Timss makes better reading for Russia which moved from 10th up to 7th in the primary maths table, stayed at 6th in secondary maths, climbed from 5th to 4th in primary science and stayed at 7th for secondary science.

Kazakhstan also shot up the tables – from 27th to 12th place in primary maths, 17th to 7th in secondary maths, 32nd to 8th in primary science and 20th to 9th in secondary science.

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