27 February 2015

Skills of ten-year-olds – PIRLS and TIMSS 2011 surveys

On 11 December 2012, results of PIRLS1 and TIMSS2 international surveys were published. The surveys testing competences of younger students of primary schools were conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). Apart from the PISA survey carried out by OECD which is addressed to 15-year-olds, PIRLS and TIMSS surveys are the main source of international comparisons of students’ skills. The most important results of the surveys

  • The PIRLS 2011 survey shows that education quality of Polish third-graders in reading is increasing. Compared to the last survey edition carried out in 2006, the result of our students in understanding a written text has improved by six points. Now, Poland ranks significantly above the international average. General improvement of results of third-graders is caused mainly by a smaller percentage of low achievers. At the same time, the gap between average results of boys and girls has decreased.
  • This was the first time when Poland participated in the TIMSS survey. The result of Polish students in natural sciences is close to the international average; the result of Polish students in mathematical skills was a bit lower, below the international average. However, it is worth noting that our students achieved better results in mathematical problems which required problem solving approach than in typical problems.
  • Polish students feel secure at school

According to students’ opinions on their sense of security at school, Poland is at the place 7-9 (along with Croatia and Finland) among 50 countries. The majority of our students think that they have hardly ever experienced: calling them names, laughing at them, excluding from playing together, spreading lies, robberies, fisticuffs, fights, forcing to do something against their will.

Conclusions from surveys for Polish education policy:

  • Pre-school education should be popularised

The surveys presented have once again confirmed at the international level a regularity according to which students who spent more time in pre-school education system achieve better results.

In Poland, children living outside large cities or in families with lower income have more limited opportunity to go to nursery schools. In order to popularise pre-school education, assumptions to the so-called pre-school act have been formulated thanks to which local governments will receive from the state budget additional funds for pre-school education development. Lower fees paid by parents and implementation of a 4-year-old child’s, and then a 3-year-old child’s right to pre-school education will enable every child to participate in pre-school education.

  • Results of surveys confirm correctness of the decision to lower the schooling obligation age

Better results in skills in mathematics and natural sciences are achieved by 10-year-old students from countries where education at schools starts at the age of six years. This means that surveyed children have spent four years in a row in the education system. Polish students have spent only 3 years at school. This fact influenced the assessment of skills in mathematics and natural sciences, because many tested issues are in the curriculum of the 4th and not the 3rd grade.

Conditions influencing results; conclusions for national education policy

  • Education period at school of surveyed students varied and depended on the age they began their compulsory education

PIRLS and TIMSS surveys are conducted on students at the age of ca. 10 years who usually have had four years of compulsory education at school (in most countries surveyed already six-year-old and younger children were subject to the schooling obligation). In Poland, surveyed children have completed the third grade, which means they have spent only three years at school. Many of the issues tested – especially with regard to mathematics and natural sciences – are introduced only after the early school education, that is from the 4th grade in Poland.

  • In Poland, students from before the reform, learning in accordance with the old core curriculum took part in the surveys

Polish students participating in PIRLS and TIMSS surveys had learned according to the old core curriculum. The survey shows achievements of students from before the reform and will be a good benchmark to evaluate effects of introduced changes.

  • Participation in next editions of PIRLS and TIMSS surveys will enable comparison of students’ skills before and after the reform (like in the case of PISA survey in years 2000-2003)

Next editions of PIRLS and TIMSS surveys will show how skills of ten-year-olds who started their education at the age of six, that is who have learned according to the new core curriculum for four years, are changing compared to skills of the present ten-year-olds.

About PIRLS and TIMSS surveys

  • Students from 69 countries were surveyed; 39 countries carried out both surveys.
  • In Poland, a random sample of students from 257 classes of the third grade in 150 primary schools was surveyed.
  • TIMSS – survey on competences in mathematics and natural sciences, and
  • PIRLS – survey on reading literacy (understanding of a read text) and writing at the first stage of school education.
  • Surveys were conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA, www.iea.nl).

Throughout over 50 years of its activities, IEA is recognised as organiser and coordinator of international educational comparative research thanks to engagement of distinguished experts and leading research centres focusing on educational measurement. Almost 70 countries from around the world are members of the association. These are mostly developed countries. IEA surveys are, apart from PISA surveys, a significant international benchmark for planning and implementing education reforms. Results of IEA surveys are presented in a form of complex, multidimensional information which includes:

  • average results, distribution of results, results in selected task types,
  • trends (since measurement instruments provide particular countries with the opportunity to compare results of subsequent editions),
  • context information: working conditions of a school, preparation and attitude of teachers, living conditions of students.


[1] The PIRLS survey has been conducted every 5 years since 2001. Poland participated in the survey in 2006 for the first time. Thanks to Poland’s participation in the next survey edition in 2011, it is possible to assess also how results achieved by Polish students have changed, in the case of reading literacy.

[2] The TIMSS survey has been conducted every 4 years since 1995. Poland took part in the survey in 2011 for the first time. Continuation of this survey in the following years will constitute a basis for assessment how students’ skills are changing.


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