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INTRODUCTION Economic and technological links among nations have mushroomed curing the past two decades and are manifest in entities as large as multinational corporations and as modest as Internet chatrooms. Such links reveal the existence of and foster curiosity about differences and similarities among nations, particularly with regard to endeavors common to all nations, such as education. A number of international comparative studies conducted in recent years, as well as other evi- dence, have shown that education systems vary substantially. A careful look at other systems can both deepen any country's understanding of its own educational beliefs and methods and introduce new possi- bilities. Researchers, policy makers, teachers, parents, and others would like answers to a variety of questions. What do other coun- tries do, and how do they do it? How effective are they in improving achievement? In what ways is the U.S. system like others? How is it different? How might it be strengthened? What does the United States do that other nations want to emulate? By far the most ambitious exploration of questions such as these to date is the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which was conducted under the auspices of the Interna- tional Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). Nearly 50 countries participated in various parts of TIMSS; materials were developed in more than 30 languages for use in the study. More than half a million students at three age levels (9, 13, 17) from 15,000 schools participated in the study, and students, teachers, and administrators in more than 20 countries responded to background questionnaires designed to elicit contextual information. Several auxiliary studies were also conducted. Researchers evaluated and compared the curricula of nearly 50 countries; experts observed and analyzed a subset of school systems in Japan, Germany, and the United States; and a videotape study of classroom lessons in the same three coun- tries was conducted. Planning for the study began in 1991 and data were collected in 1995 and 1996. The first set of primary analyses, covering 13-year- olds in 41 countries, was released in late 1996; the analyses for the 9- year-olds were released in mid-1997; the last set of primary analyses, for 17-year-olds, is to be released in 1998. TIMSS has yielded an unprecedented body of data with which to explore both targeted questions about mathematics and science achieve- ment and larger questions about the structure and curricular goals of education systems in different nations. However, the very magnitude of the study, the newness of some of the research methodology, and persistent pressure to translate complex information into simple con- clusions all raise concerns about the research methodology and about the implications of the study findings for policy decisions. To begin to address these questions, and to encourage innovative and far-sighted exploration of TIMSS resources, the National Re- search Council held a symposium in Washington, D.C., on February
3-4, 1997. The primary goal of the symposium was to seize a mo- ment soon after the initial release of findings from TIMSS when many of the central concerns regarding mathematics and science edu- cation would be the focus of considerable public attention. The sym- posium was designed to "complicate" a discussion that could easily be oversimplified: to foster appreciation of the study's complexity and of the range and depth of analyses it makes possible. Assuming that the "horse-race" rankings of nations made possible by the achievement results would receive the greatest publicity when the data were re- leased, the symposium planners wanted to initiate a sustained discus- sion of the data, as well as encourage collaboration among communi- ties of scholars. By raising awareness of some of the difficult issues presented by the complexity of the study's design, they hoped to influence the ongoing discussion of the study in ways that would enhance its potential to advance education reform. Recognizing the magnitude of the study itself and the multitude of issues it raises, they intended to encourage others to continue this discussion, not to complete it in one session. Participants included officials from the U.S. Department of Edu- cation, representatives from many private institutions concerned with education issues broadly and with mathematics and science education in particular, investigators who have been involved with TIMSS, re- searchers, and representatives from various professional groups. (See the list of participants in Appendix A.) The symposium was spon- sored by four boards of the National Research Council: the Board on International Comparative Studies in Education, the Board on Testing and Assessment, the Committee on Science Education K-12, and the Mathematical Sciences Education Board. Support came from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education. The symposium had two major components: a detailed look at TIMSS itself and the beginnings of a critical discussion of issues raised by it. The principal researchers responsible for the four major components of the study described their work and highlighted a few of their key findings and some of the methodological challenges they faced. Discussants for each of these sessions, as well as participants, raised issues of interpretation, use, and application of the study data. The remaining sessions were designed to look critically at several aspects of the study and to provide a variety of perspectives on the study and the role it might play in policy planning. Although some of the presenters addressed critiques of aspects of the study, the sym- posium was not designed to provide a thorough critical analysis of TIMSS; rather, it was designed to focus on issues relevant to TIMSS's implications for the future. (See the symposium agenda in Appendix B.) Five scholars prepared papers for the symposium. Each was asked to reflect critically on either a particular aspect of the study itself or some of its implications in the current policy environment. The re- sulting presentations and discussions ranged widely from close scrutiny 2 LEARNING FROM TIMSS: