By Dr Paulína Koršňáková, Senior Research and Liaison Advisor, IEA, and Dr Dirk Hastedt, Executive Director, IEA
The new edition of the SDG 4 Data Digest illustrates the range of partners working alongside the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) to help countries produce and use assessment data to strengthen lifelong learning. This blog highlights the work of one of these vital partners: The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), which runs TIMSS and PIRLS studies around the world to assess children’s achievements in reading and mathematics.
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) has drawn on 60 years of leadership in the field of international large-scale assessments in education to contribute to this year’s SDG 4 Data Digest. IEA studies measure student achievement in subjects such as mathematics and science (TIMSS), reading (PIRLS), civic and citizenship education (ICCS), and computer and information literacy (ICILS) which, taken together, span the three key stages outlined in the Digest for the measurement of lifelong learning.
As reported in the Digest, our open access datasets are recognised by UNESCO as a solid evidence base for researchers, educators and policymakers interested in monitoring progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Here we share some highlights.
Most students reach minimum proficiency levels in mathematics and science but, as the Digest shows, there is still work to be done
Two decades of results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 1995-2015) and 15-year trends from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS, 2001-2016) reveal genuine improvements: more countries have registered increases than decreases in average student achievement scores in 4th grade reading achievement and in both 4th and 8th grade mathematics and science. While these results reflect only the mid- and high-income countries that participate in TIMSS and PIRLS, we are widening participation to include more low-income countries through projects such as the Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (LaNA), the PIRLS Literacy Assessment and TIMSS less difficult.
The low international benchmarks for TIMSS and PIRLS represent basic functions and competencies identified as the most appropriate to measure progress on the minimum proficiency level for SDG 4 (Indicator 4.1.1). For example, students who achieve the low international benchmark for PIRLS can locate, retrieve and reproduce explicitly-stated information from a text, make straightforward inferences and – very importantly – begin to interpret the meaning and ideas contained in a story. The 96% of students who achieved at least a minimum reading proficiency level in PIRLS 2016 is the average across all 50 participating countries.
While this is a positive result, there is still much work to do in improving literacy levels for countries at the lower end of the scale. The situation is particularly challenging in three countries (Morocco, Egypt and South Africa), where less than 40% of Grade 4 students achieved the minimum reading proficiency level in PIRLS 2016 (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Percentage of Grade 4 students who performed at or above the minimum reading proficiency level (400 scale score points) in PIRLS 2016
Note: Data refer to the 23 countries where less than 95% of students performed at or above the minimum reading proficiency level.
Source: PIRLS 2016.
Most students are in safe school environments, but bullying is still a problem
In TIMSS 2015, the vast majority of fourth grade students (90%) were in safe school environments (SDG target 4.a) according to their principals and teachers. Not surprisingly, the 10% of students who attended schools with ‘disorderly’ environments had lower achievements in mathematics and science than their counterparts in safer schools: 468 vs. 512 scale score points.
It is also worrying that 45% students in TIMSS 2015 reported that they were bullied monthly or weekly. The results of a secondary analysis by David and Leslie Rutkowski (2018) confirmed that bullying is an international phenomenon that has an impact on the mathematics achievement of students who are bullied.
Many students lack reading resources
PIRLS context questionnaires help to monitor problems with school conditions and resources (SDG target 4.c). According to reports from principals, only 31% of students who participated in PIRLS 2016 were unaffected by any shortages of reading resource, and they achieved an average score of 521 points. In contrast, the 6% of students who were greatly affected by shortages in reading resources achieved scores that were significantly lower, at 474 points, which was well below the international average (Figure 2).
The UNESCO/IEA publication, Measuring SDG 4: How PIRLS can Help (2017) provides a comprehensive overview of the scope and depth of information available to improve both teaching and learning.
Children who belong to the “digital native” generation still need to learn how to interact with digital information
As the first study to create an international benchmark of digital literacy proficiency levels and to investigate the factors that influence these skills in young people, the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS) provides important data for Indicator 4.4.1: the proportion of youth with ICT skills.
Results from ICILS 2013 showed that 84% of students reached Level 1 on the digital proficiency scale, signaling that they can master basic software commands to access files and complete routine text and layout editing tasks. However, only 2% of students displayed critical thinking when searching for information online (Level 4 on the digital proficiency scale) (see Figure 3). We look forward to analysing findings from ICILS 2018 to discover any changes in trends over the past five years. The international report will be released in November 2019.
Figure 3. Percentage of students in ICILS 2013 who reached specific proficiency levels of digital literacy
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