Deborah Nelson

Document Type

Policy Brief

Date of this Version



The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)-1995 and its successor, TIMSS-1999, provide education researchers, policymakers, and practitioners with rich, comparative data designed to help better understand the performance of educational systems. As such, TIMSS is a valuable tool in current efforts to improve mathematics and science instruction and to educate students in the United States to global standards of excellence. What can we learn from this ambitious and unprecedented international effort to provide meaningful, useful data for the reform of mathematics and science instruction? It is important to reflect on this question as we assess the promise and challenges of using TIMSS-type data in particular, as well as the broader national effort to use data to guide school improvement in general.

The first in CPRE’s series of Policy Briefs about TIMSS (Dunson, 2000) looked at initial efforts to make use of TIMSS-1995 data. In this Policy Brief, we take a closer look at the ways in which TIMSS-1995 and TIMSS-1999 data have helped to inform changes in policy and practice as schools, districts, and states respond to the call for improvement in mathematics and science achievement. This Policy Brief was prepared to complement CPRE’s effort to address this question in a TIMSS Policy Forum, held in Washington, DC, in May 2002. This forum convened TIMSS Benchmarking jurisdiction representatives, teachers, administrators, policymakers, researchers, and technical assistance providers to share successful strategies and ongoing challenges in taking full advantage of TIMSS data.

This Policy Brief is based primarily on data collected in structured interviews with Using TIMSS to Inform Policy and Practice at the Local Level By Deborah I. Nelson administrators and teachers in 10 TIMSS Benchmarking jurisdictions (referred to as “Benchmarkers”). These jurisdictions within the United States participated in the TIMSS- 1999 Benchmarking Study, committing their own resources and time in order to receive data from a representative sample of their own eighth-grade students. TIMSS Benchmarkers thus have international comparative data on their students’ achievement and their system variables. Our purposive sample included equal representation from states, districts, and consortia with a variety of demographic characteristics. While TIMSS data have been used nationwide, Benchmarking jurisdictions are notable for their existing commitment to reform of mathematics and science programs and for the fact that they have access to their own local TIMSS- 1999 data.

This Brief is designed to facilitate networking and continued learning from TIMSS; it focuses on Benchmarkers’ experiences, but is relevant for anyone interested in using TIMSS to improve mathematics and science instruction. Strategies are reported in summary form. Actual TIMSS data and analysis are not discussed in detail, but related references are provided at the end of this Brief.


Date Posted: 29 June 2015