Science Benchmarking Report TIMSS 1999–Eighth Grade




CHAPTER 6: Teachers and Instruction

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

As a TIMSS 1999 national option, the United States asked science 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 6.17). In the US overall, these observations of and by teachers were reported by the science teachers of 24 and 36 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 more extensively in Guilford County, Montgomery County, and the Rochester City School District.

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 6.18, participation on committees or task forces was the most frequently used of these activities. It was reported nationally by the science teachers of more than half the eighth graders (54 percent), and was similarly popular among the Benchmarking participants.

Science 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 6.19). 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 6.20). Of all of the professional development activities, within-district workshops or institutes (75 percent of the students) and individual learning (83 percent) were generally the most frequent activities in which science teachers of US 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 areas heavily emphasized in their professional development are presented in Exhibit 6.21. Nationally, science teachers of 59 percent of eighth graders reported that curriculum was emphasized quite a lot or a great deal. The next greatest emphasis was on general pedagogy (54 percent of students) and content knowledge (51 percent), followed by subject-specific pedagogy and instructional technology (47 percent for each). Teachers reported the least emphasis on assessment (38 percent) and leadership development (20 percent). Again, although there was variation across the Benchmarking participants, the national pattern held in many jurisdictions.

Further detail about the types of content emphasized in professional development is provided in Exhibit 6.22. Nationally, teachers reported that the six content areas (earth science; biology; chemistry; physics; environmental and resource issues; and the nature of science and scientific inquiry and skills) were emphasized about equally, with most emphasis on the nature of science and inquiry skills (60 percent) and least on chemistry (39 percent). In general, a similar pattern was found in the Benchmarking states. There was more variation within some districts and consortia. For example, the Delaware Science Coalition focused relatively more emphasis on professional development in earth science (75 percent), environmental and resource issues (62 percent), and the nature of science and inquiry skills (73 percent) than in the other areas (21 to 29 percent). The Rochester City School District placed little emphasis on earth science (five percent), but rather more on biology (54 percent).

Science 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 6.23. Nationally, teachers of most students (more than 90 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. US science teachers of only 31 percent of the eighth-grade students reported being very familiar with the AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy. For the Benchmarking states, this ranged from just 15 percent in Idaho to 61 percent in Maryland. For districts and consortia, it ranged from 20 percent in the Southwest Pennsylvania Math and Science Collaborative to 63 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, 79 percent of the eighth graders had science teachers who so reported. Among states the figure ranged from 53 percent in Pennsylvania to 97 percent in Massachusetts and South Carolina, and among districts and consortia from 44 percent in the Southwest Pennsylvania Math and Science Collaborative to 97 percent in the Delaware Science Coalition and Guilford County.

next chapter >

Click here to return to the ISC homepage

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