Mathematics Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 6: Teachers and Instruction

In What Types of Professional Development Activities Do U.S. Mathematics Teachers Participate?

As a TIMSS 1999 national option, the United States asked mathematics teachers to describe their professional development during the 1998-99 school year, defined as June 1998 to May 1999. Since no other countries asked these questions, cross-country comparisons are not possible. Comparisons, however, can be made to the United States as a whole and among the Benchmarking jurisdictions. Teachers were asked both how often they observed and were observed by other teachers (see Exhibit 6.18). In the U.S. overall, these observations of and by teachers were reported by the mathematics teachers of 25 and 35 percent of the students, respectively. Among the Benchmarking states, the results for classroom observation as a professional development approach resembled the national results. Among districts and consortia, observations were used most extensively in the First in the World Consortium and Montgomery County with more than half the students having teachers who reported both observing and being observed by other teachers.

The professional development activities teachers were asked about include the following school- and district-based activities: immersion or internship activities; receiving mentoring, coaching, lead teaching, or observation; teacher resource centers; committees or task forces; and teacher study groups. As shown in Exhibit 6.19, participation on committees or task forces was the most frequently used of these activities. It was reported nationally by the mathematics teachers of more than half the eighth graders (55 percent), and was similarly popular among the Benchmarking participants.
Mathematics teachers were asked about their participation in several types of workshops, conferences, and networks, including within-district workshops and institutes; out-of-district workshops and institutes; teacher collaborative or networks; out-of-district conferences; and other forms of organized professional development (see Exhibit 6.20). They were also asked about individual activities, including taking courses for college credit; individual research projects; individual learning; and other individual professional development activities (see Exhibit 6.21). Of all of the professional development activities, within-district workshops or institutes (79 percent of the students) and individual learning (84 percent) were generally the most frequent activities in which mathematics teachers of U.S. eighth-grade students participated during the 1998-99 school year. Even though there was considerable variation, these activities were also widely reported by teachers in the Benchmarking jurisdictions.

Teachers’ reports about the topics heavily emphasized in their professional development are presented in Exhibit 6.22. Nationally, mathematics teachers of 63 percent of eighth graders reported that curriculum was emphasized quite a lot or a great deal. The next greatest emphasis was on general pedagogy, mathematics pedagogy, and instructional technology (45 to 47 percent of the students). Teachers reported the least emphasis on content knowledge (28 percent) and leadership development (15 percent). Again, although there was variation across the Benchmarking participants, the national pattern held in many jurisdictions.

The most interesting result about professional development may be the limited emphasis on content knowledge in relation to the other topics. Further detail about the types of content emphasized is provided in Exhibit 6.23. Nationally, teachers reported that the five content areas (fractions and number sense; measurement; data representation, analysis, and probability; geometry; and algebra) were emphasized relatively equally (from 45 to 56 percent). In general, the pattern of relatively equal emphasis was also found in the Benchmarking states. There was more variation within some districts and consortia. For example, the Academy School District focused relatively less emphasis on professional development in geometry (17 percent) than in the other four areas (28 to 42 percent). Montgomery County placed relatively less emphasis on measurement (18 percent) and more emphasis on data representation, analysis, and probability (72 percent). The First in the World Consortium placed relatively more emphasis on geometry (77 percent) and relatively less on data representation, analysis, and probability (37 percent).

Teachers in the United States reported a relatively heavy focus on curriculum in their professional development activities. Their reports about familiarity with various curriculum documents are presented in Exhibit 6.24. Nationally, teachers of most students (91 percent) reported that they were fairly or very familiar with the curriculum guides for their school and their school district, and this held across most of the Benchmarking jurisdictions. U.S. mathematics teachers of 82 percent of the eighth-grade students reported being very familiar with the nctm Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics. For the Benchmarking states, this ranged from 71 percent in Idaho to 98 percent in South Carolina. For districts and consortia, it ranged from 62 percent in the Chicago Public Schools to 97 percent in the Fremont/Lincoln/Westside Public Schools.

Fewer teachers than might be anticipated reported being at least fairly familiar with their state curriculum guides. Nationally, 74 percent of the eighth graders had mathematics teachers who so reported. Among states the figure ranged from 57 percent in Pennsylvania to 98 percent in South Carolina, and among districts and consortia from 54 percent in the Southwest Pennsylvania Math and Science Collaborative to 100 percent in the Academy School District.


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