The latest data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show that in 2007, Swedish students performed at average levels in natural science “but below average in mathematics in both grades 4 and 8, in comparison to other EU/OECD countries” said the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) in a statement.
The results show that the negative trends in Swedish schools which began in 1995 to 2003 have continued, but at a somewhat slower pace.
The number of students unable to reach the most basic level of knowledge in maths has doubled since 1995. And the number of students achieving top results has shrunk by an even greater amount.
Swedish students did however perform relatively well in statistics and probability, as well as in listening comprehension and arithmetic.
But results were somewhat worse in algebra and geometry.
In natural science, the deterioration in results between 2003 and 2007 is even greater than in maths.
“Since 1995, the number of students who haven't achieved the most elementary levels of knowledge and tripled while at the same time the number of students who perform at the most advanced levels have dropped by a similar amount,” said Sweden's education agency.
In both maths and natural science results for boys have dropped more than for girls since 2003.
Earlier only eighth graders have participated in the TIMSS study, but now fourth graders have been included for the first time.
The study shows that Swedish fourth graders' performance in science is in line with averages for EU/OECD countries, while their performance in maths is below average.
Minister of Education Jan Björklund expressed his disappointed over the results, and was quick to lay blame on wrongheaded policies of the past.
“It's really troubling. It must be taken very seriously,” he told the TT news agency.
“The results we see know are the effect of failed reforms in the 1980s and early 1990s.”
Björklund added that while he wished there was a quick fix to the negative trend, it was important to realize that it can take years before the effects of education policy changes can be seen.