Science Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade
Chapter 5 Contents

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




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







CHAPTER 5:The Science Curriculum

Does Decision Making About the Intended Curriculum Take Place at the National, Regional, 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 5.2 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 science curricula in 31 countries had been in place for less than a decade, and more than three-quarters of them were in revision. Of the seven countries with a science curriculum of more than 10 years’ standing, four were being revised. In Australia, Canada, and the United States, curriculum change is made at the state, provincial, or local level, and some science 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. In science, most states are in the process of implementing new content or curriculum standards or revising existing ones.(2) Much of this effort has been based on work done at the national level over the past decade to develop standards aimed at increasing the science literacy of all students. The two most prominent documents are the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Research Council’s National Science Education Standards (NSES), both of which define standards for the teaching and learning of science that many state and local educational systems have used to fashion their own curricula.(3) All but four states now have standards in science.(4)

In all 13 states that participated in TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking, curriculum frameworks or content standards in science were published between 1996 and 2000 (see Exhibit 5.3). 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 5.4 presents information about the curriculum of participating districts and consortia. Of the eight districts that participated, one reported that it used 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 Glidden, H. (1999), Making Standards Matter 1999, Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.
3 Smith, T.A., Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., and Kelly, D.L. (2000), Profiles of Student Achievement in Science at the TIMSS International Benchmarks: U.S. Performance and Standards in an International Context, Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.
4 Key State Education Policies on K-12 Education: 2000 (2000), Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.

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