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Synthesis Report




  • The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is the largest, most comprehensive, and most rigorous international comparison of education ever undertaken.

  • TIMSS' rich information allows us not only to compare achievement, but also to understand how life in U.S. schools differs from that in other nations.

  • This report on eighth-grade students is the first of a series of reports that will present findings on student achievement at the fourth grade, at the end of high school, as well as on various other topics.


  • U.S. eighth graders score below average in mathematics achievement and above average in science achievement, compared to the 41 nations in the TIMSS assessment.

  • In mathematics, our eighth-grade students' international standing is stronger in Algebra and Fractions than in Geometry and Measurement.

  • In science, our eighth graders' international standing is stronger in Earth Science, Life Science, and Environmental Issues than in Chemistry and Physics.

  • The U.S. is one of 11 TIMSS nations in which there is no significant gender gap in eighth-grade math and science achievement.


  • The content taught in U.S. eighth-grade mathematics classrooms is at a seventh-grade level in comparison to other countries.

  • Topic coverage in U.S. eighth-grade mathematics classes is not as focused as in Germany and Japan.

  • In science, the degree of topic focus in the eighth-grade curriculum may be similar to that of other countries.

  • Our nation is atypical among TIMSS countries in its lack of a nationally-defined curriculum.

  • U.S. eighth graders spend more hours per year in math and science classes than German and Japanese students.


  • The content of U.S. mathematics classes requires less high-level thought than classes in Germany and Japan.

  • U.S. mathematics teachers' typical goal is to teach students how to do something, while Japanese teachers' goal is to help them understand mathematical concepts.

  • Japanese teachers widely practice what the U.S. mathematics reform recommends, while U.S. teachers do so less frequently.

  • Although most U.S. math teachers report familiarity with reform recommendations, only a few apply the key points in their classrooms.


  • Unlike new U.S. teachers, new Japanese and German teachers receive long-term structured apprenticeships in their profession.

  • Japanese teachers have more opportunities to discuss teaching-related issues than do U.S. teachers.

  • U.S. teachers have more college education than their colleagues in all but a few TIMSS countries.

  • Student diversity and poor discipline are challenges not only for U.S. teachers, but for their German colleagues as well.


  • Eighth-grade students of different abilities are typically divided into different classrooms in the U.S., and different schools in Germany. In Japan, no ability grouping is practiced.

  • In the U.S. students in higher-level mathematics classes study different material than students in lower-level classes. In Germany and Japan, all students study the same material, although in Germany, lower-level classes study it less deeply and rigorously.

  • Japanese eighth-graders are preparing for a high-stakes examination to enter high school at the end of ninth grade.

  • U.S. teachers assign more homework and spend more class time discussing it than teachers in Germany and Japan. U.S. students report about the same amount of out-of-school math and science study as their Japanese and German counterparts.

  • Heavy TV watching is as common among U.S. eighth graders as it is among their Japanese counterparts.


  • No single factor can be considered to influence student performance in isolation from other factors. There are no single answers to complex questions.

  • The content of U.S. eighth-grade mathematics classes is not as challenging as that of other countries, and topic coverage is not as focused.

  • Most U.S. mathematics teachers report familiarity with reform recommendations, although only a few apply the key points in their classrooms.

  • Evidence suggests that U.S. teachers do not receive as much practical training and daily support as their German and Japanese colleagues.


In addition to browsing the report online, the entire report in a single PDF (Portable Document Format) file can also be downloaded, viewed, and printed.
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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education