Tomasz Gajderowicz & Maciej Jakubowski

TIMSS 2019

Achievement of Polish Fourth Graders

What is TIMSS?

TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Achievement) is a large-scale international assessment in mathematics and science. It covers students in 4th and 8th grade, but Poland participates in the 4th-grade survey only. TIMSS is conducted since 1995. The 2019 survey involves a total of 64 countries, with 58 countries participating in the 4th-grade assessment.

Data for Poland are available since TIMSS 2011, but the first edition of TIMSS in Poland covered 3rd-grade students so that data are not comparable over time. Since 2015, Polish fourth-graders participate in the survey, so changes in the results can be compared over the last four years.

How do fourth grade students perform in mathematics?

The highest results were achieved by countries from Asia: Singapore (625), Hong Kong (602), Korea (600), Taiwan (599), and Japan (593). Polish students with an average score of 520 points ranked 26th among 58 countries. Results of fourth-graders from several other countries are statistically comparable to Poland. In Portugal, Denmark, Hungary, Turkey, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, and Italy, average results are statistically similar. Significantly better results were achieved by 19 countries.

The results of Asian countries document the highest quality of mathematics teaching in early grades in these countries. As many as 54% of students in Singapore reach the Advanced International Benchmark in TIMSS. In Hong Kong, there are 38%, in Korea 37%, in Taiwan 37%, and in Japan 33%. In Europe, only Northern Ireland (26%), England (21%), and Russia (20%) teach so well that a minimum of 20% of students achieves the Advanced Benchmark. In Poland, only 8% of students reach this highest level in mathematics.

Mathematics results

[Use the filter above the chart in order to adjust the range of countries]

Mathematics results - map

Mathematics - groups of countries

What knowledge of science do our fourth graders have?

In science, the Polish 4th-grade students performed relatively better, scoring 531 points and being ranked 16th among 58 countries. A statistically similar average result was obtained by students from Sweden, England, Czech Republic, Australia, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, and Turkey. Ten countries have statistically better average results. The best results were again obtained in Singapore (595), followed by fourth-graders from Korea (588), Russia (567), Japan (562), and Taiwan (558).

Among the best countries, practically all students reach at least the Low International Benchmark. In Singapore, Korea, Russia, Japan, Finland, and Taiwan, from 97 to 99% of students reach this level. In Poland, 95% of fourth-graders reach the basic level, so about 5% do not have the elementary science knowledge expected from students of this age. In Singapore 38% and in Korea 29% of students reach the Advanced International Benchmark in science. In other countries, 20% or less of students possess science knowledge at this top level. Among Polish 4th-graders, only 9% achieved the highest level of science knowledge.

Science results

[Use the filter above the chart in order to adjust the range of countries]

Science results - map

Science results - groups of countries

How have the results of Polish students changed since 2015?


Results achieved by Polish 4th-grade students in 2019 are lower than in 2015. The decline in mathematics is 15 points, which is a significant change. The best students' results remained almost unchanged, but scores of average and the weakest students declined. Compared to 2015, we have a similar number of students achieving the highest level of knowledge.

Still, we can observe a decrease in the percentage of students reaching the Intermediate Benchmark - in 2015 it was 80% of students, while in 2019 only 73%. The Low International Benchmark was achieved by 96% in 2015, but in 2019 by 93%.


In science Poland also recorded a significant decrease. In 2015 Polish students achieved excellent results with an average score of 547 points. Thus, over the last four years, the results decreased by 16 points.

As in mathematics, the decrease was more significant for average and weaker students. In 2015, 12% of students achieved the Advanced International Benchmark, and in 2019 it was only 9%. In 2015, 85% of students achieved the Intermediate Benchmark, but in 2019 it decreased to 79%. The number of students who do not even have basic science knowledge has also increased by two percentage points.

Pre-school education and fourth graders' achievement

Instructional Time Spent on Subjects

The TIMSS data shows that Polish fourth-graders spend relatively less time on instruction, and the time devoted to learning mathematics and science is much lower than in other countries. On average, students in the countries covered by the TIMSS 2019 spent 895 hours a year learning all subjects (Polish fourth-graders only 737 hours).

Among TIMSS countries, students spent on average 154 hours (or 17% of instruction time) on mathematics. In Poland on mathematics instruction fourth-graders spent only 111 hours – only few countries stand behind in this ranking. In Portugal, a country that has made some of the greatest progress in the TIMSS survey, students spend 250 hours a year in math lessons!

Difference from internatonal average in hours. Click on continent to zoom results.

Difference from internatonal average in hours. Click on continent to zoom results.

Students Taught mostly all the TIMSS Topics

The small number of hours of instruction in mathematics and science is associated with the low coverage of topics that most students have been tought. In TIMSS there are 17 topics of mathematics instruction defined and 26 topics in science. The following graphs show the percentage of students whose teachers stated that before the assessment, most topics were tought in mathematics and science.

Poland is very poorly ranked in mathematics (seventh from the end). Even worse is the topics coverage in science, where Polish fourth-graders are ranked on the last position. Only 35% of our students were taught most of the topics defined by TIMSS!

Students Taught mostly all the TIMSS Topics - Math

Students Taught mostly all the TIMSS Topics - Science


• Changes in the core curriculum should be considered. TIMSS results show that mathematics can be taught more ambitiously.

• Data suggest that three-year pre-school education is beneficial for learning outcomes. Students who participated in pre-school education for longer achieve better results.

• Finally, one should look at teaching methods and techniques in initial education. Meta-analyses of experimental research on teaching indicate that this is a critical area, especially teaching the weakest students.

• TIMSS is a critical source of cross-country comparisons for the youngest pupils' achievement. Hopefully, these results will be used wisely in the debate on necessary changes in Polish education at its first stages.

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    Tomasz Gajderowicz
    Maciej Jakubowski