C.S.T.E.E.P. Gathers Data From 1 Million Students

By Sandra Howe
Staff Writer

The Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy has completed the data-collection phase of the largest global study of mathematics and science curriculums ever undertaken and has begun the task of analyzing the information.

The data, collected over a year-long period as part of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, is culled from tests taken by nearly 1 million students at over 25,000 schools in 45 countries. CSTEEP researchers expect to present their findings, which could provide a basis for reshaping math and science education worldwide, next October.

"Now that the tests are in, we can begin the serious research to determine what made what happen," said CSTEEP Director Prof. Albert Beaton (SOE), who is directing the study. "It's easy to explain how they did, but harder to explain why they did it. That is the challenge we face as we enter this next phase of the study."

Using results from the tests, designed for students 9 and 13 years old, and those completing secondary school, countries will be able to compare their curriculums and proficiency in mathematics and science, Beaton said, which may lead to changes in the way these subjects are taught. Since student achievement in mathematics and science is often viewed as a barometer for a country's potential economic status, he said, policy makers as well as educators are likely to take interest in the findings.

TIMSS was organized through the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, which has coordinated several international studies of curriculums and subject areas. In early 1994, CSTEEP was awarded a $6.5 million, three-year contract by the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to gather the TIMSS data. CSTEEP supervised the development and administration of the tests given by the participating countries, which included the United States, Russia, Hungary, Colombia, Japan and South Africa.

The tests devised by CSTEEP included both multiple choice and essay questions, as well as an assessment component for the older students in which they performed experiments. Completed tests are being processed at sites in Germany, Canada and Australia before arriving at CSTEEP for final analysis. CSTEEP has already received about 15 percent of the data, according to Beaton, and expects the rest by the end of January.

CSTEEP has other roles in the study, as well. The center conducted several training sessions at sites around the world and has published over 90 documents in the past year, including 25 training manuals, Beaton said. Last week, CSTEEP hosted 42 bilingual testing evaluators from 21 countries to help researchers at the center understand differences in test-grading among various countries. CSTEEP must also deal with myriad details an international project involves, such as helping foreign visitors obtain visas.

Beaton noted the high degree of cooperation and collegiality in TIMSS. With such a geographically and socially diverse number of participants, a project of this magnitude might easily be vulnerable to dissension, he said, but there has been little if any serious disagreement over procedures.

"A study like ours creates an atmosphere of change and a realization that we need to do better," said Beaton. "We hope results from this study will show people how to do that."

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