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DONALD MACNAB

RAISING STANDARDS IN MATHEMATICS EDUCATION: VALUES, VISION, AND TIMSS

ABSTRACT. This paper examines perspectiveson values, purpose and methodology in mathematicseducationin schools in the light of the ThirdIntemationalMathematicsand Science Survey (TIMSS) and currentdebates on standards. arguesthat standards atIt of tainmentin school mathematics closely connectedto belief systemsregarding are valueand purpose;thatthese systems do not always collectively offer a credibleand coherentvision for mathematicseducation which can be effectively implementedin school classrooms; and thatthis coherenceof vision is what to a largeextentcharacterises higherperformthe ing TIMSS countries.The paperforms partof a wider investigationinto the processes of change in education,with a particular focus on mathematics. KEYWORDS:mathematics,standards, TIMSS, values, vision

INTRODUCTION

Whatdo we value in mathematics education.Whatdo we wantof it in the school curriculum? Whatdoes society expect of it? Much recentresearch and debate, some of which is discussed below, is based on the belief that affective aspects of pupils' engagementwith mathematicsare at least as important cognitive aspects,thatunderstanding use of child-centred as and developmentalpsychology on the partof teachersis an essential requirement for the successful teachingandlearningof mathematics, thatthe and abilityto thinkmathematically ultimatelymore important is thanmathematical knowledgein itself. However,society increasinglyexpects objective and publicly stated standardsof attainment,standardsfor the most part set out in terms of performanceskills. There is thus potential for dislocation between outcomes, and the means used to effect these outcomes. Moreover,a vision for mathematicseducationwhich requiresa complex associatedpedagogy to supportit is, in the context of typical classrooms and teachers,unlikely to be realised, and may, in attemptedimplementations, produceless satisfactoryresults than a simpler,more robustmodel. This paperseeks to discuss these issues in an international context and to promotea vision of mathematicseducationwhich retainsa child-centred 6A

W ? 2000 KluwerAcademicPublishers. Printedin the Netherlands. This content downloaded on Thu, 17 Jan 2013 04:00:06 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

EducationalStudies in Mathematics 42: 61-80, 2000.

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DONALD MACNAB

perspectivewithin a more transparent more generallyimplementable and pedagogy.It is writtenfrom a UK and in particular Scottishperspective. a

STRUCTURE OF THE PAPER

Part1 deals with evidence andis dividedinto four sections. The firstlooks at the outcomesof the ThirdInternational Mathematics Science Study and (TIMSS), inquiringwhy the higher performingcountriesperformedwell in comparisonwith others.While TIMSShas its critics andits limitations, neverthelessit provides a recent comparativeinternational...