Ohio may be lagging in the numbers of students taking Advanced Placement courses, although students who do take the AP science tests are among the top scorers nationally, according to a recent survey.

The survey, Taking the Pulse of Bioscience Education in America (see here), places Ohio in a leading group of eight states. While Ohio education planners can take heart, the report's overall message is that America is failing to prepare its middle- and high-school students to study the biosciences in college.

The results of the study, released in May, will be examined at the BioOhio Education Summit September 1 at the TechColumbus Center (see here). The report was funded and researched by Battelle (see here), BIO (see here), and the Biotechnology Institute (see here).

The top eight states cited in the report are Connecticut followed by Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin. States lagging the most are Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia.

According to the study, 63 percent of Ohio students taking AP science exams scored grades of three or better in 2008, compared with 55 percent nationally. Looking at biology only, the state placed seventh with 58 percent scoring three or better compared with 50 percent of the student test-takers nationally. When the ACT is considered, however, achievement falls. On the science portion of the ACT in 2008, Ohio placed 16th, with an average score of 21.7 compared with a national average of 20.8.

The AP results have to be tempered with the realization that AP courses are self-selective and tend to attract students particularly interested in the field of study, said Constance Barsky of the Ohio Department of Education. They aren't directly comparable to ACT results.

While both the AP and ACT results place Ohio well up among the top half of the states, Ohio is lagging in science teacher preparation. According to the study, just 55 percent of teachers in grades 7-12 are teaching a subject in the field in which they majored in college. This compares with 77 percent nationally and ranks the state a poor 47th. Just 21 percent of seventh- and eighth-grade science teachers were certified, while 85 percent of the state's biology teachers were certified in their field.

Among the report's national findings:

  • Only 28 percent of the high school students are prepared to take college-level biology courses, according to their ACT scores.
  • 52 percent of twelfth graders are at or above a basic level of achievement in the sciences, and for eighth graders only 57 percent are at a basic level of achievement.
  • Average scores for twelfth graders in the sciences have actually declinedfrom 1996 to 2005 and shown no improvement for eighth graders both overall and on the life science component.

Marianne Clarke, the study's lead author, said that science and technology business leaders encouraged Battelle to do the report. "They're looking to the future and are not seeing people coming out of school with the kind of skills they need," she said. Bioscience is one of the key technology areas the state is banking on for the high-tech future envisioned in Ohio's Third Frontier research program. Most bioscience jobs require some level of post-secondary education.

The report suggested a number of actions, including incorporating biotechnology into revised science standards and taking a systematic approach to teacher professional development.

Ohio is now involved in a major push to revise its curriculum standards, including those for science. The standards, which must be approved by the State Board of Education by June 2010, are likely to be more coherent than current standards. Rather than introducing a topic in one grade and then not studying it in the next grade, the standards will emphasize progressive learning. For example, they will encourage schools to take an idea from geology and add more information and complexity to it as students progress through the grades.

"In feedback, teachers say the (current) standards are unmanageable and difficult to understand, difficult to integrate materials (between subjects such as life science and Earth-space) and to apply to teaching science by inquiry," Barsky said.

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