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National Science Board Meeting: TIMSS
Posted:
Jan 31, 1999 6:25 PM


APPROVED MINUTES (the part of them dealing with TIMSS)
OPEN SESSION
348th MEETING / NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD
National Science Foundation
Arlington, Virginia
May 68, 1998
Members Present:
Richard N. Zare, Chairman; Diana S. Natalicio, Vice Chair
John A. Armstrong ,F. Albert Cotton* , Mary K. Gaillard , Sanford D. Greenberg, M.R.C. Greenwood , Charles E. Hess, John E. Hopcroft, Stanley V. Jaskolski*, Eamon M. Kelly , Jane Lubchenco , Shirley M. Malcom , Eve L. Menger, Claudia I. MitchellKernan , James L. Powell , Frank H. T. Rhodes, , Ian M. Ross, Bob H. Suzuki , Richard Tapia , Warren M. Washington
Neal F. Lane, Director
Members Absent:
Vera C. Rubin, Robert M. Solow, John A. White, Jr. _____________ *Attended Thursday only.
Note: The Board, at its 349th meeting, August 1213, approved the Provisional Minutes of the Open Session of the 348th meeting.
The National Science Board (NSB) convened in Open Session at 9:35 a.m. on Thursday, May 7 1998 with Dr. Diana Natalicio, Vice Chair of the NSB, presiding (Agenda NSB98100). Dr. Natalicio announced that Chairman Richard Zare and the NSF Director would be absent during the morning session due to a conflict in schedule with a hearing on the NSF budget before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. In accordance with the Government in the Sunshine Act, this portion of the meeting was open to the public. ______________
AGENDA ITEM 3: Presentation on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)
Dr. Natalicio introduced Dr. William Schmidt, Professor, College of Education, Michigan State University and National Research Coordinator and Executive Director of the U.S. National Center that oversees participation of the U.S. in the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA)sponsored Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
Dr. Schmidt's presentation focused on the findings of TIMSS, the biggest international study of its kind ever done, involving about 50 countries. There were three study populations  roughly 4th, 8th, and 12th grade. The 12th grade cohort was defined as the grade at which students leave secondary school to go to the world of work or on to higher education. He summarized U.S. performance for all three cohorts. At the 4th grade level U.S. students, in both mathematics and science, were above the international average and very close in science to the Governors' and the President's goal of being number one in the world by the year 2000 in science. In the 8th grade comparison U.S. students performed at about the international average. For 12th grade students, comparative performance of U.S. students dropped from to the bottom of the international distribution, both for the general population and the population of students taking the most advanced mathematics and science courses. The U.S. was the only country to drop from the very top to about average from the fourth to eighth grades. This decline focuses attention on the middle school years for mathematics and science education. The most startling of all the TIMSS results is that even our best students  the top 23 percent  are at the bottom of the distribution. When compared to the 20 percent of students in other countries in that advanced track, the one percent of U.S. students who take advanced placement (AP) physics also end up below the international average. Dr. Schmidt argued that these results show that the American education system is not only failing the average student but the very best students as well. It is a systemic problem requiring a systemic solution.
Dr. Schmidt reviewed other findings on international comparisons of the content of for mathematics and science for the three cohorts. He argued that what is taught in U.S. schools helps us to understand our students' performance in TIMSS. These comparisons revealed:
Curriculum:
Different countries excel in different areas of science, with their performances correlated with the kinds of science emphasized in their respective curricula. While no country is number one in all areas, the U.S. failed to achieve first place standing in any area of science or mathematics at the 8th grade level. The TIMSS linebyline analysis of 1500 textbooks and frameworks from all participating countries revealed that U.S. texts exceed all other countries' texts in the number of topics covered. U.S. curriculum frameworks are unfocused, highly repetitive lists of topics for teachers. The 4th grade mathematics curriculum parallels the rest of the world. But in middle school mathematics, instead of teaching students algebra and geometry like other countries, U.S. students are taught arithmetic. In science, other nations teach physics and chemistry; in the U.S. students continue with earth science and life science. By 12th grade, only 20 percent of U.S. students have gone beyond geometry. Dr. Schmidt argued that the U.S. needs a curriculum that is focused, coherent nonrepetitive, and rigorous, especially during middle school to challenge students.
Teachers:
U.S. teachers' substantive knowledge needs improvement. To improve teacher preparation requires a defined curriculum, that is not now available. U.S. universities need a better definition of what is really important in science to prepare future teachers. Professional development for teachers needs to help them deal with substance in their classrooms, not process.
Students:
Almost every other nation of the world teaches the same mathematics to all 8th grade students. The U.S. differentiates students into a wide range of choices, some of which preclude them from taking more advanced courses needed for university level work or certain careers. The U.S. system does not define a common learning goal for all students. As a result, U.S. student performance variance is attributable to schools, classrooms, or tracks, rather than individual variation, as in most other countries.
Dr. Schmidt argued that the performance of U.S. students in mathematics and science needs to be attacked systemically by articulating a vision of what all children need to know at every grade level, in a set of national standards developed by the states working together. The alternative is to cede control of the curriculum to textbook writers and standardized testing organizations.
Board Discussion
In response to a question from Dr. Tapia on why teachers receive their professional development in education schools rather than in schools of mathematics or science, Schmidt agreed that teachers do not as a rule have strong substantive knowledge in science and mathematics and that there needs to be more cooperation in the university environment among schools in these areas. Dr. Powell commented that the Board, as the Nation's Science Board, should focus on making a strong, simple, clear statement. The most important point would be to affirm the validity of the TIMSS results and that poor performance of U.S. students in mathematics and science is a systemic problem, not individual student failure.
Dr. Suzuki asked why the top American students who go on to higher education and do well, becoming worldclass performers in science and mathematics, even though even the best perform poorly in international comparisons at precollege levels. He noted that foreign students are drawn to the U.S. higher education system because it fosters creativity. Dr. Schmidt replied that in order to be creative, one must have substantive knowledge, and that a creativityfostering environment is insufficient by itself. He suggested as a possible explanation that American universities may compensate for shortcomings in students' early education by focusing on serious scholars who are dedicated to their disciplines and involved in research. Many students who might have done well are discouraged from participating in science and mathematics in college by their poor experience at earlier grades.
In response to a question from Dr. Armstrong about the superficiality of mathematics and science standards, Schmidt said that standards developed by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) all attempt to improve the coherence of the curriculum by organizing it around major concepts. Most countries, by the end of grade 12 or 13, have covered the same number of topics. The U.S. is not covering more than other nations, just trying to do everything in every grade. In Scandinavian countries, students study physics in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades  building depth by focusing on different topics in physics each year. Dr. Schmidt noted that in the United States, the State of Texas science standards have such focus.
Dr. Cotton questioned Dr. Schmidt's statement that local control is part of the problem of the U.S. education system, since textbooks that guide what is taught in classes come from outside the local school system. Dr. Schmidt noted that, because there is little agreement among localities on curricula, textbook writers cover all possible topics so that they can sell their texts to a national customer base. When school districts purchase the books, many teachers try to teach all topics covered. A national set of standards would result in a more focused text as a framework for teaching.
Dr. Malcom noted Dr. Schmidt's observation that once standards needed for K12 are defined the standards K12 teachers and higher education curricula for teachers are also, de facto, defined. She argued that, without a licensing and certification process that assures that teachers are able to meet standards that enable them to teach students what they are expected to know, students will not be given an adequate opportunity to learn. This is a difficult issue, both for higher education and for NSF systemic reform efforts. Until the content knowledge needed by middle grade teachers is defined, there is a problem. On a positive note, she pointed out one area where the U.S. system is performing well in international comparisons, namely that TIMSS shows no gender gap in the performance of students at 4th and 8th grades in the U.S. Racial and ethnic differences in performance after the first few years are still disappointing, however.
Dr. Schmidt responded that, for example, in the various algebra tracks, there is a "dumbing down" of the curriculum that is related to social class, race, and ethnicity, i.e., algebra in some U.S. schools, especially in disadvantaged areas, is not what most countries teach as algebra. He agreed that the Nation needs to decide whether middle school is to be the end of elementary school or the beginning of secondary school in defining certification requirements for teachers.
Replying to Dr. Lubchenco's request for an explanation for the aboveaverage performance of U.S. students at 4th grade, Dr. Schmidt noted that, though the U.S. is not at the top in mathematics for those grades, it performs well. The U.S. 3rd and 4th grade curriculum corresponds to the curricula used in other countries. He noted that NCTM has pushed geometry, statistics, and data analysis in the early grades and speculated that it seems to be making a difference at the 4th grade level. In science, the U.S. was also near the top, perhaps due to a relatively early start in teaching science compared to other countries, science television shows, and museums with programs targeted at young children. In mathematics, the U.S. is not at the top for those grades.
In response to Dr. Greenwood's comment that in her experience some teachers select a subset of items from the curriculum and textbook to teach, Dr. Schmidt responded that TIMSS teacher data show that very few teachers follow that procedure, and those who do tend to be in more affluent districts that attract better quality teachers. With respect to another question by Dr. Greenwood, Dr. Schmidt noted that TIMSS did not collect indicators of classroom discipline but that schools did report disciplinerelated data. For those measures, U.S. schools report more tardiness and absenteeism than most other nations.
Responding to a question from Dr. Ross on the role of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Dr. Schmidt noted that the SAT covers thousands of topics in a very shallow fashion. The broadness of the SAT creates an incentive for schools and teachers to follow a broad, shallow curriculum. European countries test for achievement rather than general aptitude and exams feature 35 questions that students answer in depth.
Responding to questions from Dr. Washington, Dr. Schmidt reported that U.S. statistics show remarkably large movement of students between school districts compared to other countries. He concluded that this transience underscores the need for national curriculum standards, since children who move from place to place miss certain topics and repeat others. Extracurricular courses may have some effect, but the school is the primary determinant of performance.
Responding to a question from Dr. Rhodes on the obstacles to achieving some kind of national standards, Dr. Schmidt noted his meetings with the President, the 35 Republican governors, members of Congress, State legislators and school boards on this issue, and expressed the opinion that the chief obstacle is the sentiment among parents and local school districts that the Federal government should not be involved in setting the curriculum. However, he noted, once the case for standards is presented as a need for a national consensus so that children will not be shortchanged in their education, resistance to national standards declines. Dr. Schmidt concluded that the Board, as a prestigious, nonpartisan group of scientists, could be effective if it chose to speak on these issues. He noted ongoing efforts among states and private corporations to cooperate on these issues.
Board members thanked Dr. Schmidt for his excellent presentation.
***************************************** * Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 629014610 USA Fax: (618)4534244 Phone: (618)4534241 (office) Email: jbecker@siu.edu



