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Key Points:
- 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.*
U.S. policy makers are concerned about whether standards for our students are high enough, and, in particular, whether they are as challenging as those of our foreign economic partners. There is a widespread belief that our nation's economic productivity is related to our students' performance in mathematics and science, and that this in turn is related to the expectations that are set for student performance. However, the relationship between standards, teaching, and learning is not a simple one. Formal and informal decisions at many levels affect what students are taught. National, state, and local authorities as well as publishers set forth the officially intended curriculum in both curriculum guidelines and textbooks. Teachers also make decisions about what should be taught. Depending on the country, their decisions are based more or less closely on the officially intended curriculum. What teachers actually teach their students is sometimes called the "implemented curriculum." Both the officially intended curriculum and the implemented curriculum must be considered when discussing a nation's goals for student learning.
The TIMSS curriculum analysis studied the officially intended curriculum by asking U.S. curriculum experts to judge which topics were recommended to be taught at each grade level. Their judgments were compared with those of experts in the other TIMSS countries. This effort revealed that the number of topics recommended to be covered in the U.S. was greater than the international average at each of grades 1 through 8 for mathematics. Textbooks are another aspect of the officially intended curriculum. Videotapes of mathematics classes in Germany, Japan, and the U.S. showed that textbooks were used during class in almost half of U.S. lessons and a third of German lessons, but in only 2 percent of Japanese lessons. Teacher-developed worksheets were common in U.S. and Japanese lessons. In Japan, students also use supplementary practice books which are usually purchased from the school for use in home study. The TIMSS curriculum analysis compared the most commonly used textbooks in the various countries. For the U.S. portion of this analysis, mathematics experts were asked to recommend the most commonly-used U.S. eighth-grade textbooks in these subjects. The TIMSS questionnaire surveys of teachers found that these chosen texts were indeed among the most widely used books in the U.S, although they accounted for the textbooks used by only 28 percent of the students. This finding that the five recommended textbooks covered a fairly small proportion of students is an indication of the great diversity of textbooks in our country. In Japan, close to 90 percent of the students used one of the five most common textbooks. Analysis found that the set of 5 U.S. eighth-grade texts included more different topics across all the texts than the set of texts in Japan and Germany. Of course, not all teachers cover every topic recommended by curriculum experts, or included in textbooks. Therefore, TIMSS also studied the implemented curriculum-what teachers actually cover in their classrooms. Using the same definitions of mathematics topics that the curriculum analysis used, the videotape study of eighth-grade mathematics lessons in Germany, Japan, and the U.S. revealed that U.S. lessons include a greater number of topics. On average, U.S. teachers taught 1.9 topics per lesson, compared with 1.6 in Germany and 1.3 in Japan. The variety of topics was much wider in the U.S., too. In science, the officially intended curriculum as reflected by U.S. curriculum experts' recommendations about topics to be taught was close to the international average for grades 3 through 8. Science experts in each country chose the three most common textbooks used in their classrooms, which were found to be used by 16 percent of students in the U.S., and 84 percent of students in Japan. Thus, the evidence from a variety of TIMSS sources reinforces the finding that our eighth-grade mathematics curriculum is less focused than the curricula of other nations, if focus is defined as number and variety of topics in the intended and implemented curriculum. Although less information is available for science, U.S. curricular focus may be more similar to the average of the TIMSS countries in this subject.
The implemented curriculum in the U.S. is also less advanced than that of Germany and Japan. In the videotapes studied, 40 percent of U.S. eighth-grade mathematics lessons included arithmetic topics such as whole number operations, fractions, and decimals, whereas these topics were much less common in Germany and Japan. In contrast, German and Japanese eighth-grade lessons were more likely to cover algebra and geometry.
TIMSS does not have data to judge whether the U.S. curriculum in science is as advanced as that of other countries because the videotape study was conducted only in mathematics.
Lengthening the school year or school day has often been proposed as a measure to improve U.S. students' achievement, as it has been thought that U.S. students spend less time at school than their international counterparts. TIMSS compared the amount of time that teachers report U.S. students spend in mathematics and science classes with the amount of time reported for students in Germany and Japan. In contrast to previous analyses, TIMSS carefully took into account differences between countries in the length of the school year, school week, and class period, as well as differences between the amount of time required for students in high and low tracks. On this basis, the average number of hours per year that a student in each country spends in mathematics and science class was calculated.
Taken together, TIMSS curriculum-related findings show that |

[Executive Summary] [Preface] [Chapter 1] [Chapter 2] [Chapter 3] [Chapter 4] [Chapter 5] [Conclusions] [Appendixes]