United States

Use and Impact of TIMSS

Since the late 1990s, TIMSS has played a role in US education policy discussions, informed curricular reform efforts in the states, and been the principal vehicle for international benchmarking by the states. Moreover, public interest in TIMSS has remained high, as measured by requests for TIMSS data from NCES.

In the late 1990s, when the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study were released, TIMSS became a standard policy citation to emphasize that US student performance in mathematics and science was not leading the world. Between 1999 and 2002, state and national educational reformers across the country regularly used the results of TIMSS 1995 and TIMSS 1999 to make this point in editorials and articles.i During these years, more than three dozen congressional statements, debates, and bills cited TIMSS results to justify passing specific education bills, or to call for reforms in education to keep the United States internationally competitivej. In 2002, the US Congress passed two major reforms of US educational legislation—the No Child Left Behind Act and the Education Sciences Reform Act—both of which referred to TIMSS and made exceptions in the law to ensure continued national and state participation in TIMSS.k Since 2002, various national associations representing the interest of state governors and chief state school officers have used TIMSS results to advocate for international benchmarking by the states.50

In recent years, advocates have used TIMSS results to improve education in STEM subjects. For example, a 2008 report to the US Congress on promoting STEM education relied on comparisons of US achievement in TIMSS with that of other nations as a basis for understanding the current status of mathematics and science education, and as a justification for promoting further investment in STEM programs.51

TIMSS data on curricula in top-performing nations have informed curricular reform efforts in various states. TIMSS curricular data have played a role in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative’s successful effort to develop a clear and consistent framework to guide teaching practices for mathematics in every state. Experts who guided the development of the CCSS cited conclusions from TIMSS in their research, especially focusing on the curriculum of high-performing countries.52 TIMSS also serves as a resource for development of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science framework and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).53,54 The NGSS developed its international benchmarking standard from analysis of the top performing countries in TIMSS.

TIMSS has been the principal vehicle for international benchmarking by the states. In the first administration of TIMSS in 1995, five US states participated as benchmarking participants to gain insight as to how their students compared with their peers around the world. Since then, 13 more states have taken part in TIMSS as benchmarking participants, and the original five states have all participated in benchmarking at least once again.55 In 2011, the National Center for Education Statistics initiated a NAEP-TIMSS linking study that used data from NAEP and the nine participating states in TIMSS 2011 to predict TIMSS scores for an additional 43 US states and entities. The report, published in 2013, allowed states to compare their students’ performance with that of students internationally.56

Another way to assess public interest in TIMSS is by the number of people looking for TIMSS information on the NCES website, which is the primary US Department of Education internet source for information on TIMSS. In 2014, the number of visits to the NCES website for information about TIMSS averaged 18,500 visits per month. In December 2010, the TIMSS International Data Explorer (IDE) debuted on the NCES website, allowing users online to create statistical tables and charts with TIMSS data. In its first year online, there were over 85,000 views of the TIMSS IDE website. In 2014, views of the TIMSS IDE increased to approximately 109,000 views throughout the year.57

  • i See the results of searches for “TIMSS” on LexisNexis and the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) for 1999 to 2002.
    See the results of searches for “TIMSS” under legislative sessions 106 through 109 Retrieved from http://thomas.loc.gov/home/LegislativeData.php
  • j See the results of searches for “TIMSS” under legislative sessions 106 through 109 at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/LegislativeData.php
  • k The No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107-110, Jan. 8, 2002) refers to TIMSS in Sec. 2202 (Grants For Mathematics and Science Partnerships) when it permits states seeking specific grants to use the results from “an International Mathematics and Science Study assessment” as a substitute for state mathematics and science assessment results for measuring “improved student academic achievement” and makes an exception for federal funding of TIMSS in Sec. 9529 (Prohibition on Federally Sponsored Testing) (www2.ed.gov/legislation/esea02/107-110.pdf). The Education Sciences Reform Act (20 USC Sec. 9543, P.L. 107-279) refers in Part C, Sec. 153 to TIMSS as a specific example of the type of data on educational activities and student achievement that NCES is mandated to collect to compare the achievement of US students with their peers in foreign nations (http://www.ed.gov/policy/rschstat/leg/PL107-279.pdf).