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Educational Research Reports
TIMSS Mathematics and Science Curriculum Findings
September 1997

The Study
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is one of the largest studies on educational achievement ever undertaken. A major focus of the study analyzed of some 1,600 textbooks and curriculum guides from 48 countries in an effort to understand what works well in the teaching of mathematics and science. The study's national director is Dr. William Schmidt, professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education.

The Findings
The TIMSS report, titled "A Splintered Vision: An Investigation of U.S. Science and Mathematics Education," finds that American math and science curriculum is much more inclusive in terms of subject matter and thus not as thorough as other nations. Invariably, it is geared at the "lowest common denominator." This lack of focus results in the poor showing of American seventh and eighth grade students on the achievement portion of the study. In math, the seventh and eighth grade students ranked 24th and 28th, respectively. In science, the American students ranked 13th and 17th. Another troubling finding is that advanced math often reserved for the highest achievers in the United States is considered basic knowledge in other countries. The unfocused and all-inclusive approach to teaching math and science in the United States, the research reveals, is pervasive and "is seen in what is planned to be taught, what is in textbooks, and what teachers teach." Another finding was the fact that U.S. mathematics and science textbooks included far more topics than was typical internationally at all grade levels analyzed. And U.S. science and mathematics teachers teach far more class periods per week than their counterparts in nations such as Germany and Japan.

What It Means to You
Given the findings, how focused is your mathematics and science curriculum throughout the system? Is there a coherent vision? Do the textbooks embody that vision? Do the textbooks and curriculum as a whole define clearly what is to be taught at the various grade levels? What are the demographics of students taking advanced math and science courses in your school district? Is quantity overtaking quality and depth as it relates to mathematics and science instruction? TIMSS is an unparalleled source of information for those seeking to improve educational policy, practices and outcomes.

More Information
You can request a copy of A Splintered Vision by calling (517) 353-7755 or by email at You can also access TIMSS information from its Web site at You may also be added to the TIMSS newsletter mailing list by writing to Marlene Green, 455 Erickson Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824.

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