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NCLB Outrages

Test Shows Drop in Science Achievement for 12th Graders


Comments from Annie: Here we have another great example of a “government fix.”

“… teachers cited the decreasing amount of time devoted to science in schools, which they attributed in part to the annual tests in reading and math required by the No Child Left Behind law. That has led many elementary schools to cancel some science classes. On average, the time devoted to science instruction among elementary teachers across the nation declined from a weekly average of 2.6 hours in 2000 to 2.3 hours in 2004, Department of Education statistics show.”

SO now, of course, Science has been added to the subjects tested.

Who you gonna call?? The test-busters!!!!

“The falling average science test scores among high school students appeared certain to increase anxiety about America's academic competitiveness and to add new urgency to calls from President Bush, governors and philanthropists like Bill Gates for an overhaul of the nation's high schools.”

What “we need,” silly, is more testing! Yes!

You add the science test, adapt the curriculum to the test questions, spend half your time having students memorizing science and math answers, and the other half you have them memorizing “reading” answers, and VOILA, you have the KEY to a well-rounded NCLB-style school system. In their “free time,” better get those kids into a Chinese class….

The image I get is of a snake eating itself, beginning with its tail.

(And now, a statistical word from our sponsors)



Test Shows Drop in Science Achievement for 12th Graders

SAM DILLON

WASHINGTON, May 24 — The first nationwide science test administered in five years shows that achievement among high school seniors has declined across the past decade, even as scores in science rose among fourth graders and held steady among eighth graders, the federal Education Department reported on Wednesday.

The falling average science test scores among high school students appeared certain to increase anxiety about America's academic competitiveness and to add new urgency to calls from President Bush, governors and philanthropists like Bill Gates for an overhaul of the nation's high schools.

The drop in science proficiency appeared to reflect a broader trend in which some academic gains made in elementary grades and middle school have been seen to fade during the high school years.

The science results came from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a comprehensive examination administered in early 2005 by the Department of Education to more than 300,000 students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and on military bases around the world.

"Our fourth graders are doing better — that's the good news," said Darvin M. Winick, chairman of the bipartisan body set up by Congress to oversee the test.

"But the 12th-grade results are distressing, there's no other way to slice it. The Bush administration and just about everybody else is complaining about the high schools, and these results show there's really something to complain about."

The science test, which was administered in the first months of 2005, covered the earth, physical and life sciences. The science test was last given in 2000 and in 1996. The test administrators translate scores into three achievement levels: advanced, proficient and basic.

On the most recent test, 68 percent of fourth graders achieved at or above the basic level, compared with 63 percent on the 2000 and 1996 tests. Twenty-nine percent of fourth graders performed at or above the proficient level in 2005, up from 27 percent in 2000 and 28 percent in 1996.

The rising science achievement among fourth graders mirrored similar trends on nationwide reading and math tests released last fall. In interviews, analysts attributed those increases to the broad movements for higher standards and accountability that began in most states in the 1990's and gained force when President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind law in 2002.

The fourth-grade science results showed scores of black and Hispanic students rising more than those of white students, thus narrowing the gap between minority and white students who, on average, have traditionally scored much higher. But the gaps persisted or widened in the higher grades.

Eighth-grade scores were largely unchanged from 10 years ago, with 59 percent of those tested scoring at or above the basic level in 2005, while 60 percent of students were at or above basic in 1996. Officials called those results disappointing, but the results from the nation's secondary schools were worse.

Among high school seniors, 54 percent performed at or above the basic level in science in 2005, compared with 57 percent in 1996. Eighteen percent of high school students performed at the proficient level in 2005, down from 21 percent in 1996.

To achieve at the basic level on the National Assessment, high school seniors must demonstrate knowledge of very basic concepts about the earth, physical and life sciences, and show a rudimentary understanding of scientific principles.

There was some debate on Wednesday about how to explain the 12th-grade declines.
Assistant Secretary of Education Tom Luce said they reflected a national shortage of fully qualified science teachers, especially in regions of poverty, where physics and chemistry classes are often taught by teachers untrained in those subjects.

"We lack enough teachers with content knowledge in math and science," Mr. Luce said. "We have too few teachers with majors or minors in math and science. That clearly is a problem."

Michael J. Padilla, a professor at the University of Georgia who is president of the National Science Teachers Association, said that the problem was not that universities were failing to train sufficient numbers of science majors or that too few were opting for classroom careers, but that about a third of those who accepted teaching jobs abandoned the profession within five years.

"What happens is that the system tends to beat them down," Mr. Padilla said. "Working conditions are poor, it's a difficult job, and the pay isn't that great."

Some teachers cited the decreasing amount of time devoted to science in schools, which they attributed in part to the annual tests in reading and math required by the No Child Left Behind law. That has led many elementary schools to cancel some science classes.

On average, the time devoted to science instruction among elementary teachers across the nation declined from a weekly average of 2.6 hours in 2000 to 2.3 hours in 2004, Department of Education statistics show.

The No Child Left Behind law requires states to begin testing in science, however, in the 2007-2008 school year. P. John Whitsett, a physics teacher at Fond du Lac High School in Wisconsin who has taught science for 36 years, said that children who had the opportunity to study science in elementary school tended to develop an excitement for the field that lasted into high school.

But when elementary and middle schools neglect science, students seek to avoid taking science courses in high school.
"Overall interest in science is down," Mr. Whitsett said.

The results showed considerable regional variations, with some states' scores stagnant or falling and others rising sharply. The National Assessment's report on the test praised five states — California, Hawaii, Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia — because both fourth- and eighth-grade scores there improved from 2000 to 2005.

Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas Fordham Foundation, an educational research organization that supports testing, attributed the science successes in Virginia and California to what he described as those states' clearly defined science standards. And Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia, he said, are among those states that hold local schools accountable for low science scores.

States must by law participate in the National Assessment's biennial reading and math exams. But the science test is voluntary, and New York and five other states — Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Pennsylvania — declined to help federal officials administer the test to a large enough number of students to allow their states' scores to be compared with those of other states.

A few students were tested even in the six states that did not participate fully, allowing the collection of a nationally representative sample.

Tom Dunn, a spokesman for New York's Department of Education, said that state officials decided not to participate fully in the federal science testing because during the spring of 2005 they were preoccupied with field trials for a series of new reading and math exams required by No Child Left Behind.

In New Jersey, 31 percent of fourth graders in public schools scored at proficient or above, compared with 33 percent in Connecticut. The national average for fourth graders attending public school was 27 percent scoring at proficient or above.

The report is available online at nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006466.

— SAM DILLON
New York Times
2006-05-25
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/25/education/25exam.html


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