Competing in the Global Economy

Factors impacting science achievement

09/03/2009  |  KYLIE STEWART PH.D.
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In 2005, the Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF) released A Commitment to America’s Future: Responding to the Crisis in Mathematics and Science Education, which brought national attention to the critical issues that are effecting America’s competitive position in the new global economy. The report found that for the U.S. to meet the new economic challenges, the math and science base must be enhanced and expanded. A frequent yardstick used to measure science achievement and growth in U.S. education is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or sometimes referred to as the Nation’s Report Card offers a glimpse into the shortfalls of science education across the country. The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) defines “proficient” as solid academic performance or competency of challenging subject matter. In 2005, 29% of 4th grades, 29% of 8th graders, and 18% of 12th graders scored proficient on the national science assessment. It is clear that as a nation, the U.S. has a low percentage of students scoring at the proficient level in science while the number drops as students’ progress through high school.  This significant lack of science proficiency in K-12 students is due to a number of factors, the most considerable being a lack of high quality curriculum materials that provide a coherent presentation of essential science skills, and lack of science content knowledge and pedagogy by classroom teachers.

Research has identified that the availability of a curriculum aligned with the tested curriculum positively influences classroom practices. Without this alignment “students would face an unfair and almost impossible challenge to prove what they have learned.” Classroom teachers typically rely on science textbooks to provide direction in teaching while often times relied on heavily by novice teachers or teachers teaching outside of their expertise. In 2002, Project 2061, a long-term science, mathematics, and technology education reform initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), conducted an evaluation of the most widely used textbooks in middle school science and found that not one of them were satisfactory. The texts often involved classroom activities that were irrelevant to key science ideas or failed to connect underlying ideas to each other. This finding further supports the need for a high quality science curriculum, which provides a coherent representation of important science concepts.

Despite the belief that testing gives a “clearer focus” to curriculum for teachers and students, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future has found that many teachers cannot produce the kind of learning demanded by the educational reforms “not because they do not want to, but because they do not know how…” . According to research, successful science instruction requires teachers to have a thorough understanding of content, students as learners, and pedagogical strategies. This depth of understanding is imperative if an educator hopes to “…transform the content knowledge he or she possesses into forms that are pedagogically powerful and yet adaptive to the variation in ability and background presented by the students” .

Kylie Stewart Ph.D. is Assistant Professor Educational Technology at Pittsburg State
University. For more information, visit www.pittstate.edu.
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