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Curriculum Coherence: An Examination Of US Mathematics And Science Content Standards From An International Perspective


"In recent years, US curriculum policy has emphasized standards-based conceptions of curricula in mathematics and science. This paper explores the data from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to argue that the presence of content standards is not sufficient to guarantee curricula that lead to high-quality instruction and achievement. An examination of the content topics covered in each grade of a group of six of the highest-achieving TIMSS countries in mathematics and science shows a pattern in which new topics are gradually introduced, are a part of instruction for a few grades, and then often leave the curriculum as separate topics. This contrasts sharply with mapping of topics in the various US national standards in mathematics and science. Topics enter and linger, so that each grade typically devotes instructional attention to many more topics than is typical of the six high-achieving countries; in addition, each topic stays in the curriculum for more grades than in the high-achieving countries. An examination of mathematics and science content standards from 21 states and 50 districts in the US shows a pattern more like that of the US national standards than those of the high-achieving TIMSS countries. While content standards have become integral to US curriculum development and reform, they have yet to reflect the coherence that is typical of countries that achieved significantly better than the US in the TIMSS study."