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Presentation of TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking Study Results
It is our pleasure to release the results from the TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking
Study, which enabled states and districts to take part in TIMSS 1999
and assess the comparative international standing of their eighth-grade
students mathematics and science achievement among 38 countries.
The results are detailed in two companion volumes:
- Mathematics Benchmarking Report, TIMSS 1999 Eighth Grade
- Science Benchmarking Report, TIMSS 1999 Eighth Grade
Participants included 13 states
from all across the country, and 14 districts and consortia of districts
with widely differing characteristics. For example, they ranged from
having hardly any (2%) to almost all (89%) of their students from low-income
families. By virtue of its participation in such a venture, each Benchmarking
jurisdiction obviously has shown a deep commitment to educational improvement.
It took courage and initiative to join such a high profile enterprise
as "benchmarking" against the world class performance of students
in the top-scoring TIMSS 1999 countries.
This landmark study charted innovative and exciting new waters by providing
states and districts the unprecedented opportunity to engage in a practice
common in the business world benchmarking against the processes
others use to achieve success. Since the strength of TIMSS is placing
achievement in the context of an extremely rich array of information
about the many organizational elements of education internationally,
today is only the first step. The real work lies ahead for each participant,
as they systematically investigate the vast amount of TIMSS data in
depth, consider areas of strengths and weaknesses, and implement policies
and practices for improvement.
On Mathematics Achievement
From Singapore to South Africa, the 38 countries participating in TIMSS
1999 represented an extremely broad range in mathematics achievement.
Five Asian countries were the top performers. Singapore, the Republic
of Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Hong Kong SAR had the highest average
achievement, and Japan also performed very well.
U.S. eighth graders exceeded the international average of the 38 TIMSS
countries, but were close to the middle of the distribution above
17 countries, similar to 6 countries, and below 14 countries.
As in the United States, mathematics performance in the 13 Benchmarking
states also was generally clustered in the middle of the international
distribution of average achievement. All of the Benchmarking states
performed either significantly above or similar to the international
average, yet well below the five high-performing Asian countries.
In contrast, mathematics performance across the participating school
districts and consortia reflected nearly the full range of achievement
internationally. Although achievement was not as high as Singapore,
Korea, and Chinese Taipei, the Naperville School District and the First
in the World Consortium (both in Illinois) were at the high end of the
continuum, performing similarly to Hong Kong and Japan as well as Belgium
(Flemish) and the Netherlands.
At the other end of the continuum, several urban districts with high
percentages of students from low-income families and minorities performed
similarly to lower-performing TIMSS 1999 countries, but significantly
higher than the lowest-scoring countries.
On Science Achievement
The range in science achievement also was substantial for the TIMSS
1999 countries. Chinese Taipei and Singapore had the highest average
performance in science, closely followed by Hungary, Japan, and the
Republic of Korea.
Similar to mathematics, performance in science for the United States
was higher than the international average, but near the middle of the
distribution above 18 countries, similar to 5, and below 14.
For the 13 Benchmarking states, however, average science performance
was relatively better than in mathematics, with performance clustered
in the upper half of the international distribution. All but three states
performed significantly above the international average.
The range in science achievement for the districts and consortia was
nearly as wide as for the countries. The Naperville School District
topped the chart in science, accompanied by the First in the World Consortium,
the Michigan Invitational Group, and Colorados Academy School
District, all of which had average achievement comparable to Chinese
Taipei and Singapore.
The Benchmarking participants with the lowest average science achievement
were four urban districts with high percentages of students from low-income
families and minorities.
On Mathematics and Science Content Areas
Of the five mathematics content areas assessed, students in the Benchmarking
jurisdictions generally followed the national pattern of performing
above the international average in algebra, fractions and number sense,
and data representation, but not in measurement and geometry.
As one might expect, students relative strengths in number and
algebra corresponded to teachers reports about the mathematics
areas taught in school. Although there was some variation in the Benchmarking
districts, teachers in the United States and the 13 Benchmarking states
indicated that most eighth-grade students were in mathematics classes
emphasizing either number or algebra, or a combination of algebra, geometry,
The consistency among U.S. jurisdictions was remarkable in the light
of the variation in results across the TIMSS 1999 countries. Despite
curricular control at the state and local level, it appears that there
may be similarities in curricular emphases especially among the states
in mathematics. However, the curricular pattern did differ from that
of the top-performing Asian countries where most students were in classes
emphasizing algebra and geometry in combination with each other or other
Following the U.S. pattern, the majority of the Benchmarking participants
performed above the international average in all the science content
areas except physics. It is difficult to link this achievement pattern
with the subject matter taught in science classes, however, because
there was considerable variation in content area emphasis among the
Benchmarking participants and many students were in general science
Disparities in Opportunities to Learn
The TIMSS Benchmarking Study provides evidence that some schools in
the United States are among the best in the world, but that a world-class
education is not available to all children.
In comparison with selected countries (U.S. trading partners and high-performing
countries), the top-achieving Benchmarking jurisdictions had high percentages
of eighth-grade students from well-resourced homes. Those with the lowest
achievement were four urban districts that also had the lowest percentages
of students with high levels of home educational resources.
Students with fewer educational resources at home also often have fewer
opportunities at school. The Benchmarking results go hand in hand with
existing research showing that students in urban districts also often
attend schools with fewer resources than in non-urban districts, including
a less challenging curriculum and an atmosphere less conducive to learning.
On Teacher Preparation
Compared to internationally, teachers in many Benchmarking jurisdictions
may be overconfident about their preparation to teach eighth-grade mathematics.
Across the Benchmarking participants, the smallest percentage of students
with teachers who felt "very well prepared" to teach mathematics
was 75 percent compared to the international average of 63 percent.
The comparable figure for the United States was 87 percent. Although
more confident than their colleagues internationally, benchmarking teachers
were less confident in their preparation to teach science. Just 27 percent
in the U.S. felt "very well prepared," with a range across
Benchmarking jurisdictions from 56 percent to 14 percent.
On Instructional Time
U.S. eighth-graders have more hours of instructional time in mathematics
and science than do students internationally. Simply providing instructional
time is not sufficient, however, if that time is not spent productively.
Interestingly, the teachers in Korea as well as in high-performing Naperville
and the First in the World Consortium reported comparatively less amounts
of instructional time than many of the other TIMSS participants.
TIMSS shows that interruptions can detract from instructional time.
In Japan and Korea, the majority of students were in mathematics and
science classes that never had interruptions for announcements or administrative
tasks. Among the Benchmarking participants, Naperville had the highest
percentage of eighth graders in such classes, but it was only 22 percent
for mathematics and 30 percent for science.
Indicative of further erosion of instructional time, compared to internationally,
the Benchmarking participants reported an unusually large amount of
classroom time devoted to working on homework, particularly in mathematics.
From 43 to 90 percent of eighth graders across the benchmarking participants
reported almost always or pretty often beginning homework in mathematics
class. This figure was 74 percent in the United States.
In conclusion, the TIMSS Benchmarking reports provide a unique perspective
for a systematic investigation of educational policies and practices.
It is clear from the TIMSS results that improving students opportunities
to learn requires examining every aspect of the educational system,
including the curriculum, teacher quality, availability of resources,
students motivation, instructional effectiveness, parental support,
and school safety. TIMSS reminds us that there is no "magic bullet"
or single factor that is the answer to higher achievement in mathematics
or science. Raising achievement involves improvements in a number of
important areas related to educational quality.