NRC Issues Guide To Improve Math, Science

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For three years, policymakers and public school critics have been decrying the United States' mediocre performance on a series of international mathematics and science tests. Now, the National Research Council is offering advice to school officials on how to improve the situation.

The congressionally chartered organization has published a guide to help districts prepare teachers to change how they work and what they teach in the classroom. Those changes are meant to reflect the findings from studies of curriculum and teaching methods in other countries, which were conducted along with a series of assessments of student performance in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.

For More Information

The workbook, "Global Perspectives for Local Action: Using TIMSS To Improve U.S. Mathematics and Science Education," is available for $85.25 from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20055; (800) 624-6242. It is also online at ml/.

"Most people's impression of TIMSS is that it consists of test results and that's all," Melvin D. George, the chairman of the NRC's Continuing To Learn From TIMSS Committee and a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said in an interview at the start of a three-day meeting held here to unveil an NRC professional- development guide.

"The TIMSS results are much richer and more complex than that," Mr. George said. "A local school district needs to sit down and do an examination" of what the research means for its curriculum, he said.

On the TIMSS exams, U.S. students placed in the middle in most grade levels, with performance slipping as students moved from elementary school to high school. Accompanying curriculum research attributed the undistinguished performance to a failure by most American schools to teach math and science in a coherent way that leads to in- depth understanding. ("Math, Science Curricula Said To Fall Short," Oct. 16, 1996.)

Integrated Effort

At the meeting held at the NRC's headquarters here Nov. 19-21, teams from 40 school districts participated in professional-development workshops outlined in the research council's workbook, "Global Perspectives for Local Action: Using TIMSS To Improve U.S. Mathematics and Science Education."

Using the 443-page workbook, participants learned from TIMSS findings what is taught in the United States and the other 41 countries where the examinations are administered, how the subjects are taught in those countries, and what U.S. districts can do to emulate the classroom practices of the most successful countries.

For example, the materials summarized the results of a study that videotaped instructional practices in the United States, Germany, and Japan—an encouragement to workshop participants to examine what American teachers might learn from their peers in other countries. ("New Images of Teaching," April 9, 1997.) At the end of the meeting, the teams, which ranged in size from two to five people, brainstormed on ways to change what their districts were doing to modify how they teach mathematics and science.

NRC officials hope the participating teams will return to their districts and offer similar workshops. The workbook is available to districts that want to investigate how TIMSS results might help them revise their math and science instruction.

"It allows you to tap into the process at the point where your district is," said John R. Brackett, the superintendent of the Lake Shore public schools in St. Clair Shores, Mich., and a member of the NRC committee.

Mr. Brackett said his 3,500- student district in the Detroit suburbs was slowly applying some of the TIMSS research by writing an elementary school curriculum. One thing he's learned, he said in an interview, is that any changes a district makes must involve a complete overhaul of the curriculum and how teachers work.

"This can't be an add-on ... something else to do," he said. "It has to be an integrated part of reform efforts you've got going."

Vol. 19, Issue 14, Page 8

Published in Print: December 1, 1999, as NRC Issues Guide To Improve Math, Science
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Web Resources
  • Read "Learning from TIMSS," a National Research Council Symposium on the Results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.
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