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Topic: TIMSS: Informing Changes in Curriculum
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
TIMSS: Informing Changes in Curriculum
Posted: Jan 28, 1999 2:07 PM
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[From Policy Brief - Using TIMSS to Inform Changes in Curriculum, The
National Institute on Educational Governance, Finance, Policymaking, and
Management and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, U.S.
Department of Education, Washington, D.C., November, 1998, pp. 13-14. For
sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents,
Mail Stop SSOP, Washington, D.C. 20402-9328 -- the cost is $5.00. ISBN

Using TIMSS to Inform Changes in Curriculum

The findings suggest directions for changes in U.S. curriculum policies. As
a starting point, we need more focus, coherence, and rigor in our
curriculum. Higher performance expectations for students and by students,
especially during the middle school and high school years, are needed to
alter course-taking patterns.

We cannot solve our curriculum problems by simply moving upper-grade
courses or advanced topics to lower grades or merely insisting that
students take more of what is currently available. Rather, curriculum
reform means redefining content, grade by grade, to ensure coherent
transitions from simple to more complex content and skills. It may also
mean organizing topics in a different way.

Every national context is different, and similar curricula play out in
different ways in various nations, states, and classrooms. Merely emulating
the curriculum practices of other countries is not an effective strategy
for the United States. Rather, we should apply the new knowledge about
curriculum from TIMSS to develop new alternatives that fit our own context.
The process of reforming curriculum should include strategies for
monitoring how students and parents respond to innovations. In the past,
some educators have pushed curriculum innovations like whole language to an
extreme before we really knew which aspects worked and which did not. And
they lost public support in the process (Richard Elmore, Harvard
University, TIMSS Policy Forum).

Implementing these changes will require policymakers to make some difficult
choices, such as deciding which topics are most important, which can be
eliminated, and what should be done for students who do not learn the
content at the time it is offered. Making these changes will necessitate
discussions across grades and across levels of government. Right now the
United States does not have professional or policy structures that
encourage these kinds of conversations-suggesting we may have to create

While focus, coherence, and rigor in curriculum appear to be necessary
conditions for raising math and science achievement, these characteristics
alone cannot guarantee high achievement. The curriculum sets the stage for
good instruction (Schmidt and Valverde, 1997).


Elmore, R. (1997) "Education Policy and Practice in the Aftermath of
TIMSS." Paper commissioned by the Board of International Comparative
Studies in Education. <>

Schmidt. W.H. and Valverde, G. (1997) "Policy Lessons on TIMSS." Paper
prepared for the National Governors' Association. <>

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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