Overview

Amid current efforts to improve mathematics and science education in the United States, people often ask how these subjects are organized and taught in other countries. They hear repeatedly that other countries produce higher student achievement. Teachers and parents wonder about the answers to questions like these: Why do the children in Asian cultures seem to be so good at science and mathematics? How are biology and physics taught in the French curriculum? What are textbooks like elsewhere, and how much latitude do teachers have in the way they follow the texts? Do all students receive the same education, or are they grouped by ability or perceived educational promise? If students are grouped, how early is this done? What are tests like, and what are the consequences for students? Are other countries engaged in Standards-like reforms? Does anything like "standards" play a role in other countries?

At times, international comparisons are framed not as questions but as assertions, such as "The Asians cover many more topics"; "The Japanese are in school longer"; ''The French require more homework"; "High levels of instant recall and speed in calculations are required of Chinese students." These assertions reflect widely shared beliefs about education in other countries. Although these claims are quite common, their factual bases vary. They indicate the high level of attention to mathematics and science education around the world.

Naturally, interest is greatest about countries whose students seemingly outperform U.S. students. Sometimes this intense interest stems from a desire to identify those practices that are associated with student achievement, characterized by the question, "What are other countries doing that works?" Sometimes the interest is rooted in a defensiveness, expressed as "They only score higher because they exclude so many of their students by high school, while we educate all our students" or as "The pressure on their students is excruciating."

Questions such as these reflect more than a casual interest in other countries' educational practices. They grow out of an interest in identifying ways to improve mathematics and science education in the United States.

In this report, we introduce the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS),1 a major international investigation of curriculum, instruction, and learning in mathematics and science, which will provide resources for addressing these and other important questions. We draw on a pilot

1  

TIMSS is a collaborative research project sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The IEA will release a series of international TIMSS reports beginning in the fall of 1996. Several U.S. TIMSS reports, including detailed reports on findings and methodology, also will be released beginning at this time. Dr. Albert Beaton, Boston College, is the TIMSS International Study Director. Dr. William Schmidt, Michigan State University, is the U.S. National Research Coordinator.



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--> Overview Amid current efforts to improve mathematics and science education in the United States, people often ask how these subjects are organized and taught in other countries. They hear repeatedly that other countries produce higher student achievement. Teachers and parents wonder about the answers to questions like these: Why do the children in Asian cultures seem to be so good at science and mathematics? How are biology and physics taught in the French curriculum? What are textbooks like elsewhere, and how much latitude do teachers have in the way they follow the texts? Do all students receive the same education, or are they grouped by ability or perceived educational promise? If students are grouped, how early is this done? What are tests like, and what are the consequences for students? Are other countries engaged in Standards-like reforms? Does anything like "standards" play a role in other countries? At times, international comparisons are framed not as questions but as assertions, such as "The Asians cover many more topics"; "The Japanese are in school longer"; ''The French require more homework"; "High levels of instant recall and speed in calculations are required of Chinese students." These assertions reflect widely shared beliefs about education in other countries. Although these claims are quite common, their factual bases vary. They indicate the high level of attention to mathematics and science education around the world. Naturally, interest is greatest about countries whose students seemingly outperform U.S. students. Sometimes this intense interest stems from a desire to identify those practices that are associated with student achievement, characterized by the question, "What are other countries doing that works?" Sometimes the interest is rooted in a defensiveness, expressed as "They only score higher because they exclude so many of their students by high school, while we educate all our students" or as "The pressure on their students is excruciating." Questions such as these reflect more than a casual interest in other countries' educational practices. They grow out of an interest in identifying ways to improve mathematics and science education in the United States. In this report, we introduce the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS),1 a major international investigation of curriculum, instruction, and learning in mathematics and science, which will provide resources for addressing these and other important questions. We draw on a pilot 1   TIMSS is a collaborative research project sponsored by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The IEA will release a series of international TIMSS reports beginning in the fall of 1996. Several U.S. TIMSS reports, including detailed reports on findings and methodology, also will be released beginning at this time. Dr. Albert Beaton, Boston College, is the TIMSS International Study Director. Dr. William Schmidt, Michigan State University, is the U.S. National Research Coordinator.

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--> project related to this study, the Survey of Mathematics and Science Opportunities (SMSO)2,3. SMSO describes the development and piloting of the TIMSS instruments and methodology and reports preliminary findings. The focus of this short report is on what TIMSS will be able to contribute to understandings of mathematics and science education around the world as well as to current efforts to improve student learning, particularly in the United States. The report centers on three sets of questions: What is the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)? How is opportunity to learn viewed in TIMSS? What kinds of information have the researchers collected? What are some of the challenges and opportunities of cross-national work? What is the Survey of Mathematics and Science Opportunities (SMSO)? What can be learned from it? What does SMSO say about intended curriculum? What does SMSO say about the implemented curriculum and instructional practices? What questions might be explored with TIMSS? What do the preliminary issues in SMSO suggest about questions that should be pursued in the TIMSS data? What issues raised by this first study are important to bear in mind in interpreting TIMSS findings? What are the implications for secondary analysis? The release of results from TIMSS, beginning in 1996-1997, will attract significant interest and attention. A study such as this is a complicated undertaking. Factors that may vary dramatically across countries include educational objectives and examinations. There are important differences in how educational objectives and examinations are determined, how they influence teaching and learning, and how they are viewed. The TIMSS data, which focus not only on student achievement but also on educational systems and practices, will make it possible to ask questions about and analyze factors that combine to influence educational outcomes. Due to substantial developments in methods of international comparison as well as the ambitious scope of the TIMSS study, the analyses possible with the TIMSS data set will be unprecedented. The study is also an object of concern for some observers. Issues of quality control in sampling, translation of instruments, and collection and management of data are sometimes problematic in international studies.4 The task of this report is not to assess TIMSS or SMSO. The report neither 2   The SMSO project began in 1991 as a collaborative effort to understand the key elements of teaching and learning in mathematics and science classrooms in six countries. SMSO was intended to develop theoretical models and methodological tools to inform the design of TIMSS. SMSO is described in Schmidt, et al. (1996). Characterizing pedagogical flow: An investigation of mathematics and science teaching in six countries. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. 3   TIMSS and SMSO are funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Canadian Ministry of Human Resources Development, and participating countries. 4   Board on International Comparative Studies in Education. (1993). A collaborative agenda for improving international comparative studies in education. Washington, DC: National Research Council.