The data suggest that compared to the U.S., the four relatively higher-achieving countries (based on the TIMSS 1995 assessments and consistent with the 1999 assessments) in eighth-grade science participating in this study—Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, and the Netherlands—shared two commonalities. First, eighth-grade science lessons in these four countries appeared to focus on high content standards and expectations for student learning. However, there were varying definitions across these four countries for what counts as high content standards. Second, instead of exposing students to a variety of pedagogical approaches and content, the science lessons within each of the four relatively higher-achieving countries appeared to reflect a common instructional approach that was content-focused.
In the Czech Republic, the content standards were high in terms of the density and challenge of science content ideas, and the instructional approach focused on talking in a whole-class setting about science ideas. In Australia and Japan, the content standards were high in terms of developing ideas with the support of evidence in the form of first-hand data and phenomena, and the instructional approach focused on connecting ideas and data through an inquiry, inductive process. In the Netherlands, science content expectations were high in terms of students being held responsible for their own independent learning, and the instructional approach featured independent, seatwork activities focused around textbook-centered reading and writing activities.