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


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.


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.


Board on International Comparative Studies in Education. (1993). A collaborative agenda for improving international comparative studies in education. Washington, DC: National Research Council.

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