Language of the Timss - Like Test and Students Performance




Abstract - This study aimed to identify the effect of language used in the TIMSS-like test and the science vocabulary test towards students’ performance in General Science. Two instruments were used to generate the data and from which the results were based. The data gathered were analyzed statistically using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) namely, ANOVA, and Pearson product moment of correlation. Results revealed were the following: (1) Group 1 who used Filipino language test obtained the highest mean score and has smallest standard deviation value as compared with those who used English language (control group), and who used their native dialect (experimental group 2). Analysis on the relationship among variables showed student’s performance in the TIMSS-like test and vocabulary ability is relatively low. The correlation coefficient value of 0.170 indicates that only 3.2% of the variance on the two measures correlated is common to variables. On the overall relationship using the mean score obtained by the respondents in the General Science Test and Vocabulary test, findings revealed that vocabulary knowledge is significantly related with the performance in the General Science Test having a correlation of 0.0241. The positive correlation result implied that if the vocabulary knowledge of the students improved or increases then their academic performance will also improve or increase.

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Indexed terms – language, vocabulary knowledge, general science performance


Language is a spoken code that enables human beings to communicate with each other. It is as a written code for systematic science learning, and as a vehicle for constructive and creative thinking. The first function of language is science while the second is technology [1].

In the Philippines, Filipino people are typically multilingual which is now creolized among small elite. Since I957, the vernacular language has been used in grade 1 and grade 2; while Filipino and English language are used in some subjects in secondary and higher education level particularly science and mathematics [2]. One of the major issues facing policy makers and the implementations of education in general and science education in particular is the low performance of Filipino students at the basic level of education. TIMSS-R in 1998 features the translation of the English version of the test items in Filipino language for Filipino participants, for which only 15 schools or 10% of the total schools sampled chose to take the Filipino version of the test [3]. In their study, two questions remained unanswered; does the language of the test make significant difference in students’ performance? Would Filipino students perform better if the students themselves were made to choose the language of the test? In this connection, this research were materialized for the purpose of looking into, whether the languages use in the TIMSS-like test affects student performance in general science.

  1. Participants and Procedure

There were 72 first year high school students at MSU-Balindong High School participated in this study, they were matched paired base on their previous grades and randomly distributed into three groups: control group (group1) took the English version test, experimental group A (Filipino version test) and experimental group B took their choice language version of the test. In the experimental group B, the students were free to choose what test version they wanted to take. In this group, 3 or 12.5% chose English version, 5 or 20.83% chose Filipino version and 16 or 66.67% chose Meranao (native language) version test. Each group consisted of 24 students.

  1. Instruments

Two instruments were used in the study to measure the effects of language used in the TIMSS-like test in general science. These are; TIMSS-like evaluation test based from the TIMSS constructed by the DOST-SEI and, the vocabulary test.

The English version of TIMSS-like questions and the vocabulary questions were translated into Filipino version and Meranao version (native dialect of the respondents). All instruments were pilot tested prior to its implementations. Finally, there were 55 items in the TIMSS-like questions and 45 items in the vocabulary test.

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Experimental group A (Filipino version test) obtained highest means scores followed by experimental group B (choice language) and control group (English version) respectively. In the case of standard deviation, group A obtained lowest deviation compared to their counterparts, while group B obtained highest deviation. These numerical results implied that students who chose Filipino version test (group A) showed homogeneity in answering the test, indicating that there is uniformity in their understanding of the concept being tested. Meanwhile the semblance of heterogeneity manifested by group B implied that this student varies in their understanding due to the fact that they are taking different version of test.

Comparison of overall mean score in General Science Test among groups shown in Figure 1, indicate that if the students are exposed on Filipino language, they performed better on the Filipino language test, since Muslim students use Filipino language as their medium.

Mean score in General Science Test

Using Pearson r correlation, results showed that there is positive correlation (r = 0.241, α = 0.041) of the overall mean scores of the TIMSS-like and vocabulary test at 0.05 level of significant. This means that if the students have a wide range in vocabulary, then, they can perform better and understand deeper the concepts on higher order thinking skills. One reason why Philippines has a very low performance in science is due to the difficulty of students in identifying the concepts and skills, that is probably because of poor vocabulary knowledge [4]. The size of a person’s vocabulary is directly associated with the level of his intelligence.

The results in the analysis of variance revealed that the mean scores obtained by the three groups did not differ significantly, probably due to limited number of respondents and or the number of items in the test. Moreover, the result may infer that language of the test does not affect either positively or negatively on the performance of the students. This result is consistent with the findings of Castillo (1999), which claimed that language use has limited effect on academic performance [6].

The dilemma on what language to use for science and mathematics instruction has remained for some time. However, based on the results of the study, the Filipino students’ respondent performed better in the Filipino version test. Although English is the official medium of instruction in teaching science in the Philippines, but, in reality teacher use Filipino or their dialect in the teaching-learning process. Thus, it can be inferred that the language use in the instructions must be the language to be used in the test.

Moreover, the positive correlation between the students’ performance in the TIMSS-like test and vocabulary test implied that vocabulary knowledge is a tool for the students to perform better in their academic subjects. Therefore, teachers should be encouraged to incorporate science vocabulary in the science subjects.


Based on the respondent’s performance in the General Science TIMSS-Like tests, it can be said that the students find difficulty in answering questions that call for comprehension, application, and analysis. This may be due to the persistent practice of teachers to ask low level thinking questions during their day to day classroom discourse and written examinations.

In as much as no significant differences between the mean scores among the group, one may take a look at the prerequisite stock knowledge and skills learned by the students in the elementary grades. It implies further that, the shortcoming besetting basic education such as curriculum materials, teacher preparation, dedication and commitment as well as administrators refocusing of their intended functions is addressed individually or collectively by stakeholders.

If the bilingual policy which requires English as a medium of instruction in Science and Mathematics, and other subjects are to be taught in Filipino in the elementary and secondary education, one has to take cognizance of the diversity in the dialects of the Filipino which is brought about by the geographical existence of islands and islets that make up the entire nation. While English remains as official medium of instruction, in reality, teachers use Filipino or their dialect in explaining when students could not understand the concept being explained.

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The positive significant correlation between the overall mean scores in the General Science test and Vocabulary test implies importance of a wide range of vocabulary in learning the concepts. It is a tool for the students to perform better. One has to realize however, that unlike in English, there three aspects of communication namely: scene setting, intention, and meaning [7]. A student may find difficulty in giving the contextual meaning of the words in the test in as much as they are used to giving the meaning literally. Moreover, scientific terms are sometimes difficult to translate and if translated, may not be the exact or true meaning of the word as it is used in the statement. For example, the word “gas” which is one of the states of matter, when translated to Filipino language, the dictionary meaning given is “gaas” but the word “gas” is a dialect term for “kerosene” or fuel. This alone would lead misconception to the concept gas.

The result of the study may give insights not only to science educators but to language teachers as well. As science educator, the task is one that calls for total commitment to improving the quality of the learners.

  1. It is recommended that the language to be used as medium of instruction in teaching must be the language that is easily understood and frequently used by the students.
  2. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate science terminologies or vocabulary and words frequently used in building science concepts to provide and effective learning and better understanding of the subject matter that they teach.
  3. Language of the test should be taken into account and consider the nature and characteristics of the students aside from the purpose for which the test is given.
  4. Teachers should make it part of their teaching strategy to ask questions reflecting higher order thinking skills of the students when developing a test. Assessment should challenge critical thinking among students.
  5. Teachers must develop strategies that will enhance the development of thinking skills of students as they learn science concepts and other subject disciplines.
  6. Intensive teachers training on development of higher order thinking skill processes and assessment strategies should be designed and undertaken by teacher training institution to help improved teachers competencies.
  7. School administrators and policy makers should consider the use of language appropriate for the discipline in developing the curriculum.
  8. Lastly, it is recommended that further study about language using larger sample may be conducted not only in General Science but also in other subjects.

[1] SEDP (1983). Science learning teaching. Language in Focus Proceedings of Symposium on the Role of Language in Science learning. Science education development plan.

[2, 4]TIMSS – R (2000). Philippine Report Volume 1: Science Department of Education Culture and Sports: DOST SEI & UP National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development.

[3, 6]Castillo, E.H. S. et. Al (1999). Educating via language. Language education council of the Philippines and language study and research center incorporated.

[5]Deighton, L.C. (1971). The encyclopedia of education. Crowell, Collier Educational corporation, USA.

[7]Acuña, J.E. & de Guzman, F.S. (1987). Language and science achievement in the Philippine context. Journal of science and math education S.E. Asia SEAMEO – RECSAM Vol. X No. 1