Standards, Testing, & Accountability

What's Holding Back America's Science Performance?

What's holding back America's science performance?

While business leaders rue the lack of American workers skilled enough in math and science to meet the needs of an increasingly high-tech economy, the situation may be growing even grimmer. The latest installment of TIMSS showed stagnation in U.S. science achievement, and the 2009 NAEP science assessment found that only 21 percent of American twelfth-graders met the proficiency bar. Yet while the gravity of the problem is clear, the root cause is not. Is our science curriculum lacking? Is it being squeezed out by an emphasis on math and reading? Is there a problem with our pedagogy? Are our teachers ill-prepared? Or are we simply expecting too little of teachers and students alike?

Coinciding with its new review of state science standards, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute will bring together experts with very different perspectives to engage this crucial question: "What's holding back America's science performance?"

Watch the discussion with UVA psychologist Dan Willingham, NCTQ President Kate Walsh, Fordham's Kathleen Porter-Magee, Project Lead the Way's Anne Jones, and Achieve, Inc.'s Stephen Pruitt and join the conversation on Fordham LIVE!

The entire school reform movement is predicated on a
hypothesis: Boosting student achievement, as measured by standardized tests,
will enable greater prosperity, both for individuals and for the country as a
whole. More specifically, improving students’ skills and knowledge in reading,
math, and science will help poor children climb out of poverty, and will assist
all children to prepare for the rigors of college and the workplace. By
building the “human capital” of the American workforce, rising achievement will
also spur economic growth, which will lift all boats.

Call this the Test
Score Hypothesis.

Is stronger academic
performance related to better life outcomes for kids and better economic
outcomes for nations?

It explains reformers’ enthusiasm for test-based
accountability; for “college- and career-ready standards”; for teacher
evaluations based, in significant part, on student outcomes; for “data-based
instruction”; and for much of the rest of the modern-day reform agenda. After
all, if reading, math, and science knowledge and skills are so directly linked
to the life chances of individual kids, and of the livelihood of the country as
a whole, why not get the education system focused like a laser on them?

But is this hypothesis correct? Is stronger academic
performance related to better life outcomes for kids and better economic
outcomes for nations?

In a word: yes. As Kevin Carey noted
recently, the big Chetty et...

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After years spent rebutting skepticism and criticism, proponents
of the small-schools movement have reason to rejoice (at least in the Big Apple).
This MDRC policy brief—an update of its larger 2010
report on small high schools of choice (SSCs) in New York City
—finds continued
evidence that attending an SSC boosts one’s odds of graduating. Some
background: Between 2002 and 2008, New York City replaced twenty-three large, failing
district schools (graduation rates under 45 percent) with 216 new smaller
schools—including 123 academically non-selective “small schools of choice.” These
are brand-new schools with hand-picked staff, close student/faculty
relationships, and strong community partnerships. Starting them entailed a
stringent application process (which needed specifically to address how the
schools would serve disadvantaged youth) before opening. The brief adds to the
original report with an additional year of data (tracking over 21,000 Gotham students)
and finds that the average four-year graduation rate was 8.6 percentage points
higher for students enrolled at oversubscribed SSCs than for students in
traditional public schools who had applied—but not gotten into—their small high
school of choice. What’s more, these findings hold true across all achievement,
income, and racial subgroups. While this brief (and its precursor) offer great
fodder for aficionados of small-schools of choice, it is important to remember:
In New York City, at least, SSCs are not just mini-versions of traditional public
high schools, but instead new models...

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Since
Sputnik shot into orbit in 1957, Americans have considered science and
science education to be vital to our national security and economic
competitiveness. That imperative has continued
in the half century since the Soviet satellite launch. Indeed, a 2011
survey reports that 74 percent of Americans think STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Math) education is “very important,” while only two percent
say it’s “not too important.”

Yet
this strong conviction has not translated into strong science achievement. The
2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress found barely one-third of U.S.
fourth graders “proficient” in science, slipping to 30 percent in eighth grade,
and a woeful 21 percent in twelfth. International comparisons are even more
disheartening. The most recent PISA assessment, for example, showed American
fifteen-year-olds ranking a mediocre twenty-third out of sixty-five countries. 

Meanwhile,
U.S. companies continue to send jobs overseas in no small part because they
cannot find enough Americans with the requisite STEM skills and knowledge.

Add
it up and you should be alarmed, very alarmed. Seems the United States does a
great job of talking the talk about getting science education right but we’re a
long way from walking the walk.

Why? How can it be that Americans have voiced so much
concern about science education for such a long time yet made so little
progress...

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Since
states began to adopt the Common Core ELA and math standards en masse, the big
question was how well those standards would really be implemented. As I’ve mentioned
before
, there isn’t yet a clear consensus about what Common Core
implementation should mean for instruction. Nor are states necessarily targeting
their implementation efforts on the highest-impact activities
.

Enter
the GE Foundation. In the hopes of providing a big boost to the Common Core
implementation efforts, the foundation announced a 4-year, $18 million grant to
Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by CCSS architects David
Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Sue Pimentel. According to GE, the grant will support
several implementation efforts, including:

  • Direct collaboration with teachers
    to produce and share examples and best practices of excellent instruction
    aligned with the Standards;
  • A website, www.achievethecore.org, to distribute
    free resources designed to support teacher understanding and implementation;
  • Standards Immersion Institutes
    designed to cultivate teacher experts who can build knowledge in their
    districts and states;
  • The development of tools to track
    implementation and evaluate the quality of student work; and
  • Partnerships with a network of
    non-profits to provide ongoing technical support to district and state leaders
    guiding implementation.

Of
course, the pressure is now on to deliver on these lofty goals. There will
certainly be other investments in nonprofit groups looking to provide school-
and district-level implementation support, but this...

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The entire school reform movement is predicated on a
hypothesis: Boosting student achievement, as measured by standardized tests,
will enable greater prosperity, both for individuals and for the country as a
whole. More specifically, improving students’ reading, math, and science
knowledge and skills will help poor children climb out of poverty, and will
help all children prepare for the rigors of college and the workplace. And by
building the “human capital” of the American workforce, rising achievement will
spur economic growth which will lift all boats.

Call this the Test
Score Hypothesis.

It explains reformers’ enthusiasm for test-based
accountability; for “college and career-ready standards”; for teacher evaluations
based, in significant part, on student outcomes; for “data-based instruction”;
and for much of the rest of the modern-day reform agenda. After all, if
reading, math, and science knowledge and skills are so directly linked to the
life chances of individual kids, and of the livelihood of the country as a
whole, why not get the education system focused like a laser on them?

But is this hypothesis correct? Is stronger academic
performance related to better life outcomes for kids and better economic outcomes
for nations?

In a word: yes. As Kevin Carey noted
recently, the big Chetty et al
study
didn’t just demonstrate the importance of teacher effectiveness. It
also offered strong support for the Test Score Hypothesis.

If
...
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American science performance is lagging as the economy becomes increasingly high tech, but our current science standards are doing little to solve the problem. Today Fordham is releasing “The State of State Science Standards 2012,” a new evaluation of science standards from every state and the District of Columbia, and our experts’ findings are deeply troubling: The majority of states earned Ds or Fs for their standards in this crucial subject, with only a handful of jurisdictions receiving As.

In particular, state standards struggled with vagueness and an overemphasis on “inquiry-based learning” instruction, while overwhelmingly failing to clearly convey the crucial connection between math and science. Although the treatment of evolution has improved since Fordham’s last assessment of state science standards in 2005, many states still miss the mark on teaching this vital topic.

As 26 states work with Achieve, Inc. to produce multi-state Next Generation Science Standards over the coming year, this report emphasizes both the urgency of their efforts and the stakes involved.

Explore all the state report cards to see how your state performed and register to attend or stream tomorrow’s panel discussion on the state of American science education, “What’s holding back America’s science performance?”...

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American science performance is lagging as the economy becomes increasingly high tech, but  our current science standards are doing little to solve the problem. Reviewers evaluated science standards for every state for this report and their findings were deeply troubling: The majority of states earned Ds or Fs for their standards in this crucial subject, with only six jurisdictions receiving As. Explore all the state report cards and see how your state performed.

Foreword*

Introduction*

Media release*

NAEP framework

Appendix A

Appendix B*

About the Authors

Are Bad Schools Immortal? Groundhog Day Event

Are Bad Schools Immortal?

When it comes to low-performing schools, we seem to be witnessing the same thing over and over—not unlike the classic movie, Groundhog Day.Ground Hog Day

A recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute tracked about 2,000 low-performing schools and found that the vast majority of them remained open and remained low-performing after five years. Very few were significantly improved. So, are failing schools fixable?

Join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for a lively and provocative debate about that question. Fordham VP Mike Petrilli will moderate, and the discussion will be informed, in part, by Fordham's study, Are Bad Schools Immortal? The Scarcity of Turnarounds and Shutdowns in Both Charter and District Sectors.

California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address
last week got the anti-reform crowd all atwitter (and a-Twitter) when he called
for scaling back testing and reducing the federal and state roles in California
education. Diane Ravitch swooned, writing in a blog
post
that Brown and his Sunshine State compatriots “may provide the spark that ignites a national revolt against the current
tide of bad ideas.” In one respect, both Brown and Ravitch have it right:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top and conditional NCLB waivers
mark a high-water mark for federal intrusion in K-12 education and it is
understandable for governors to chafe at such strong-arming from Washington.
But California is hardly the place to look for good ideas. Its student achievement results trail other states’ by
a mile, and its poor and minority students are doing terribly compared to their
peers in other, more reform-minded states. (Texas and Florida come to mind.) We
have no qualms with mid-course adjustments to the reform agenda (getting test
results back in an expedited manner, for example—something Brown championed).
But let’s not just toss all school reform efforts into the Sacramento River,
either.

Brown
differs sharply from Obama on education policy
,” by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2012

 ...

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