Mathematics Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade
Chapter 5 Contents



What Mathematics Content Do Teachers Emphasize at the Eighth Grade?





© 2001 International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA)




CHAPTER 5: The Mathematics Curriculum

What Mathematics Content Do Teachers Emphasize at the Eighth Grade?

Teachers of the mathematics classes tested were asked what subject matter they emphasized most in their classes (e.g., geometry, algebra, various combinations of content, etc.). Their responses, presented in Exhibit 5.16, reveal that most eighth-grade students around the world are being taught mathematics with an integration of content areas. Internationally on average, more than half the students were taught a combination of mathematics topics (i.e., combined algebra, geometry, number, etc.), and almost 20 percent were in classes emphasizing algebra and geometry combined.

Just as in TIMSS 1995,(6) the mathematics curriculum in the U.S. at the eighth grade does not appear to be as advanced as in other countries. About one-third of the U.S. eighth-grade students were in mathematics classes where the emphasis was on the combination of algebra, geometry, number, etc., but more than one-quarter were in classes emphasizing mainly number. None of the reference countries except Canada had a comparable proportion of students in classes emphasizing mainly number, and across all the TIMSS 1999 countries a mere 14 percent of students were in such classes.

Even when U.S. eighth graders were being taught algebra, it was usually as a single emphasis. More than one-quarter of the students were in classes emphasizing only algebra, compared with six percent in classes with a combined algebra and geometry emphasis. This is almost a reverse of the international pattern of 20 percent in algebra and geometry combined compared with eight percent in algebra only.

The Benchmarking states generally resembled the United States overall in the percentages of students in classes emphasizing various mathematics subject matter. Relative emphasis on mathematics subject matter varied more across the districts and consortia. Similar to the United States overall, most Benchmarking jurisdictions had much higher percentages of students whose teachers reported emphasizing mainly number at the eighth grade than did those in the top-performing comparison countries. These data suggest that many students in the U.S. continue to be taught number concepts at the eighth grade while their peers in other countries study topics in geometry and algebra, as discussed below. This is supported by previous TIMSS studies that showed that U.S. eighth-grade students who were not in Algebra 1 courses (approximately 75 to 80 percent of students) continued to receive instruction in arithmetic, estimation, and “measurement – units” compared with their peers internationally who have completed these topics and received more focused instruction on integers, rational numbers, “exponents, roots and radicals,” and on geometry, algebra, and proportionality topics.(7)

In the Benchmarking states, the percentages of students in classes emphasizing mainly number is striking, and ranged from 20 percent in Indiana and Massachusetts to 39 percent in Idaho and Illinois. In Chicago and the Fremont/Lincoln/Westside Public Schools, 47 and 40 percent of students, respectively, had teachers who reported emphasizing mainly number at the eighth grade, while only four percent had teachers who did so in high-performing Naperville. Less than 10 percent of students were in mainly number classes in only six of the Benchmarking jurisdictions: the First in the World Consortium, Guilford County, Jersey City, the Michigan Invitational Group, Naperville, and Rochester.

There was even more variation among districts and consortia in the percentage of students in classes emphasizing algebra, ranging from two to five percent in Chicago, Jersey City, and Rochester to 91 percent in Naperville. Districts and consortia with more than one-third of their students in classes emphasizing algebra were the Academy School District, First in the World, Guilford County, Miami-Dade, the Michigan Invitational Group, Montgomery County, Naperville, and the Southwest Pennsylvania Math and Science Collaborative. Nearly all Benchmarking jurisdictions had no more than three percent of their students in classes emphasizing geometry. Only the Academy School District and the First in the World Consortium had appreciable percentages of students in such classes (14 and 18 percent, respectively).


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6 Peak, L. (1996), Pursuing Excellence: A Study of U.S. Eighth-Grade Mathematics and Science Teaching, Learning, Curriculum, and Achievement in International Context, NCES 97-198, Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
7 Schmidt, W.H., McKnight, C.C., and Raizen, S.A. (1997), A Splintered Vision: An Investigation of U.S. Science and Mathematics Education, Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


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Boston College, Lynch School of Education