Mathematics Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 5: The Mathematics Curriculum

Does Decision Making About the Intended Curriculum Take Place at the National, State, or Local Level?

Depending on the education system, students’ learning goals are set at different levels of authority. Some systems are highly centralized, with the ministry of education (or highest authority in the system) being exclusively responsible for the major decisions governing the direction of education. In others, such decisions are made regionally or locally. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. Centralized decision making can add coherence and uniformity in curriculum coverage, but may constrain a school or teacher’s flexibility in tailoring instruction to the needs of students.

Exhibit 5.1 presents information for each TIMSS 1999 country about the highest level of authority responsible for making curricular decisions and gives the curriculum’s current status. The data reveal that 35 of the 38 countries reported that the specifications for students’ curricular goals were developed as national curricula. Australia determined curricula at the state level, with local input; the United States did so at both the state and local (district and school) levels, with variability across states; and Canada did so at the provincial level.

In recent decades, it has become common for intended curricula to be updated regularly. At the time of the TIMSS 1999 testing, the official mathematics curricula in 29 countries had been in place for less than a decade, and more than half of them were in revision. Of the eight countries with a mathematics curriculum of more than 10 years’ standing, five were being revised. In Australia, Canada, and the United States, curriculum change is made at the state, provincial, or local level, and some mathematics curricula were in revision at the time of testing. The curricula in these three countries were relatively recent, having been developed within the 10 years preceding the study.

The development and implementation of academic content standards and subject-specific curriculum frameworks has been a central focus of educational change in the United States at both the state and local level. There has been concerted effort across the United States in writing and revising academic standards that has very much included attention to mathematics. Much of this effort has been based on work done at the national level during this period to develop standards aimed at increasing the mathematics competencies of all students. Since 1989, when the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) published Curriculum and Education Standards for School Mathematics, the mathematics education community has had the benefit of a unified set of goals for mathematics teaching and learning. The NCTM standards have been a springboard for state and local efforts to focus and improve mathematics education.(2) All states except Iowa (which as a matter of policy publishes no state standards) now have content or curriculum standards in mathematics, and many educational jurisdictions have worked successfully to improve their initial standards in clarity and content.(3)

In all 13 states that participated in TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking, curriculum frameworks or content standards in mathematics were published between 1995 and 2000 (see Exhibit 5.2). Four states detailed the standards for every grade including the eighth grade, seven states detailed them by a cluster or pair of grades that included the eighth grade, and two states reported the eighth grade as a benchmark grade at which certain standards should be met. Most states provided standards documents to guide districts and schools in developing their own curriculum, while some states, such as North Carolina, developed a statewide curriculum for all schools to use.

Exhibit 5.3 presents information about the curriculum of participating districts and consortia. Of the eight districts that participated, one reported that it uses the statewide curriculum in all schools (Guilford County); five had a district-wide curriculum that supported the state-developed frameworks or standards (the Jersey City Public Schools, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Montgomery County, the Naperville School District, and the Rochester City School District); and two had a curriculum developed at the school level (the Academy School District and the Chicago Public Schools), with Chicago also offering an optional structured curriculum district-wide. Each participating consortium indicated that all or most of its districts developed their own curriculum at the district level.


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2 Kelly, D.L., Mullis, I.V.S., and Martin, M.O. (2000), Profiles of Student Achievement in Mathematics at the TIMSS International Benchmarks: U.S. Performance and Standards in an International Context, Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.
3 Raimi, R.A. (2000), “The State of State Standards in Mathematics” in C.E. Finn and M.J. Petrilli (eds.), The State of State Standards, Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; Glidden, H. (1999), Making Standards Matter 1999, Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

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TIMSS 1999 is a project of the International Study Center
Boston College, Lynch School of Education