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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 1997. Learning from TIMSS: Results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, Summary of a Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5937.
Page 29
Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 1997. Learning from TIMSS: Results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, Summary of a Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5937.
Page 30

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(Elmore, 1997:5~. Elmore argued that high academic standards can be established, and be effective, without national consensus on precisely what they contain. Since it is states that hold the constitutional re- sponsibility for ensuring that children are educated, it is they who will exert the pressure that will make standards a reality. Elmore's concern is not so much that standards and curricula will not be suffi- cientlv coherent but that if equal attention is not paid to ensuring that supports are In place to assist schools and students that need it, the consequence will be penalties for schools that serve needy popula- tions, and a decrease in the already elusive equality of opportunity that has been a guiding goal for the U.S. educational system. Jan de Lange perhaps summed up the views of many of the pre- senters and participants with the following advice, which he addressed to teachers but which could certainly apply more broadly: "Make no changes if not sure of direction." · . . · . . . SUMMARY The purpose of the symposium was neither to achieve consensus on any of the issues raised by TIMSS nor to formulate specific advice or suggestions for those using the data. Rather, the purpose was to bring together a variety of perspectives in order to stimulate ideas and raise questions. This is precisely what was accomplished, as symposium chair Richard Shavelson noted when he began his sum- mary with the remark that "multiple perspectives prevail." He also noted, however, that "this is a tough message to give policy makers." Despite the fact that discussion and analysis of the TIMSS results are only beginning and that the results so far available have not yielded obvious policy prescriptions, Shavelson continued, several useful themes and questions emerged from the discussion. Context matters. There was a sense, seemingly shared by virtu- ally all who spoke at the symposium, that student and school perfor- mance must be understood in context. As Shavelson put it, "The policy implication is that focusing education reform solely on the schoolhouse and not family, community, and other socioeconomic supports is likely to fall short of the mark." The study was designed to explore both achievement and at least some of the many contextual factors that affect it. The next task, participants seemed to agree, is to ensure that the importance of the relationship between these two is understood as the TIMSS results are disseminated. Given the importance of understanding each country's results in context, how can the research and policy communities general- ize from what TIMSS has shown? Shavelson noted that there is a two-fold issue in this question. It is important, first, to confirm that what appears to be characteristic of a particular country is indeed so that the data are accurately modeled. Second, context notwith- standing, those interested in TIMSS will want to derive guidance from the study. Acknowledging that specific claims about causation RESULTS OF THE THIRD INTERNATIONAL MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE STUDY 29

cannot be supported by data from TIMSS, Shavelson went on to argue that responsible uses can be made of the study's results. "How," he asked, "can we account for the particularity of context while reaching generalizations with TIMSS?" While he had no ready answer, he urged the group as a scientific community to continue to address the problem in order to profit fully from the vast investment of money and effort that has been made in collecting the data. TIMSS provides valuable images of what is possible. Recog- nizing that the TIMSS results will be generalized by policy makers, educators, and the public, and cognizant of the need for caution in interpreting and learning from TIMSS, Shavelson was enthusiastic about learning from the alternatives TIMSS provides images of what is possible. These images, he explained, particularly of teaching and of curriculum, can stimulate thinking, provoke public debate, and pro- vide valuable perspectives, long before they have been scientifically scrutinized. While it is true, he added, that questions about generaliz- ing about whether a strategy will work in another context or can be effectively adapted by another teacher may remain unsolved, they need not hamper experimentation. Trying out alternatives suggested by TIMSS will be the key to understanding in which contexts, if any, they will succeed. There is a clear need for ongoing study. --I The ~vmno~illm rli ~- cuss~on made clear that researchers who have not yet had the opportu- nity to look at this rich dataset will bring alternative perspectives, and it is important that they gain access to the data. In addition, Shavelson said, the innovative combination of research methods used in TIMSS calls for an innovative combination of researchers to undertake the secondary analysis. A kind of teamwork that has not been tried be- fore may be called for, Shavelson argued, and he urged the commu- nity to consider ways of making sure that this happens. He also urged those in a position to do so to feel a responsibility to provide support for TIMSS research beyond what has already been planned and funded. Further research, he argued, ought to represent a diversity of views and to focus on issues that have significant policy implications and, therefore, be useful to policy makers. TIMSS has some clear implications for education reformers. Shavelson drew from the symposium a clear sense that TIMSS rein- forced the notion that no reform ought to be undertaken without a corresponding commitment to do three things: provide adequate re- sources to support it, sustain it for long enough to be sure it has had a chance to take hold, and evaluate its impact. He expressed a hope that further dialogue and debate based on the TIMSS results would help decision makers focus their reform efforts. Seconding Elmore's view of the political context in which TIMSS was undertaken, Shavelson suggested that the study could help to solidify some of the consensus that seems to be developing around standards-based reform. 30 LEARNING FROM TIMSS:

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