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August 28, 2009

Maryland students post mediocre results for science

The state released the results of the Maryland School Assessments for science this week and they improved only slightly over the past year.

The tests don't count for No Child Left Behind, and state officials believe that schools and teachers aren't stressing them much with students. Still they are some indicator of what students know.

Only 63.7 percent of fifth-graders passed the test and only 65.3 percent of eighth-graders passed.

This is only the second year the exams have been given and there was a 4 percentage point gain in eighth grade, but the scores were flat in fifth.

Still, the test results are about 20 percentage points below reading and math. State school board members seemed disappointed by the results, particularly since there is a new emphasis on math and science in a state trying to market itself to biotech research and businesses.

The state did release graphs comparing results in Maryland with other states. The tests are different, but Connecticut had a much higher pass rate than Maryland.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she thought that the enormous effort that has been made on reading and math in the past five years under NCLB has sucked attention away from subjects like science and history.

I would like to know what science teachers out there have to say about how seriously they and their students take the tests and whether they believe their subject is given a lot less attention than it should be given.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region


These results are not surprising when you consider that, in recent years, many schools and systems have shifted toward a scheduled that all but eliminated social studies and science instruction at the elementary and middle school levels in order to focus more intensely on reading and mathematics. Maybe these data will help change those trends.

Absolutely true - science is nonexistent in elementary schools proviiding no foundation for students as they approach middle school. Teachers have 1 hour per day to dedicate to science, social studies and health education. Until science scores are factored into AYP, school will continue to prioritize math and reading. Its sad when you consider that science can provide an engaging context for learning reading and math - it just takes some planning and leadership to make it happen. In most school systems, STEM is just another education acronym that will come and go...

@realteacher -
My feeling is that STEM may go away eventually, but it's on the upswing at this point. The governor is pushing it along with an emphasis in biotechnology. Given enough time, STEM will fade away (like just about everything), but if I had money to bet I'd say that it won't be soon. I'll admit that my perspective might be biased since I'm an engineer, but I think that science and math teachers are in a growth industry.

@realteacher -
My feeling is that STEM may go away eventually, but it's on the upswing at this point. The governor is pushing it along with an emphasis in biotechnology. Given enough time, STEM will fade away (like just about everything), but if I had money to bet I'd say that it won't be soon. I'll admit that my perspective might be biased since I'm an engineer, but I think that science and math teachers are in a growth industry.

So Dr. Grasmick says that schools may have shifted focus away from science because of NCLB. How surprising! Who is responsible for extremely long hi-value testing at all levels? Not the teachers in the trenches. You can't have it both ways--emphasis on math and reading takes away from other subjects. Let's not even talk about the effects on the fine arts. We are preparing a group of hi-stakes test takers and not much else.

There are too many variables related to the MSA science testing given in 5th grade to figure out what is wrong.
First of all, very little time can be scheduled in a day for science, social studies and health so we can fit in reading, language arts and math.

Science, social studies and health are only taught one half of the year in elementary grades. The units keep changing and the professional development is minimal. Some schools have a STEM teacher who is not supposed to work with groups of children.

Undergraduate training for elementary teachers has historically focused on instruction, not content. Unless some teachers are interested very little science content for elementary teachers is offered. BCPS is beginning to offer summer workshops to build the science background knowledge of elementary teachers. Unfortunately it is on a small scale and available for a few participants.

As to the test, it is given on the computer which is different than the paper and pencil reading and math MSA. Also it is given long after the reading/math MSA are given and the students are "done with testing." I am surprised that the scores are as high as they are.

Testing anything other than fundamental SKILLS and thinking of a scientist is the downright STUPIDEST decision, ever. I don't know what is on the test, because thankfully when I taught middle school science in BCPSS a few years ago we were not tested. However, from my discussions with current colleagues I see that the exam focuses way too much on facts - which, just in case you missed my point the first time, is the STUPIDEST decision ever.

The exams are scheduled at 5th and 8th grade - times when we should really be focused on big ideas and thinking skills in science, not on a random collection of disconnected facts and names that will be hardly remembered at best and turn our young scientists off from science at worst.

The only redeeming factor of these exams is that they MAY some day lead to schools replacing focus on Science that has been lost in the wave of Math/ELA testing focus. I only saw my students every other day or for one semester. So through out middle school, these kids had a total of 3 semesters of Science versus 6 of Math and ELA. And as realteacher pointed out above, this is really a missed opportunity - Science is one of the main subjects that involves hands-on learning and active opportunities - indeed, ways to engage kids to LIKE the math and reading because they are seeing how it applies to the real world. We are really shooting ourselves in the foot by decreasing Science time.

Overall, unless they can come up with a standardized exam that tests science skills and critical thinking, then these tests are worthless wastes of time, resources, and student effort.

Not surprising. So much emphasis is placed on the math and reading tests, frankly, many students are overwhelmed.

You can only jam so much in a student's head and when these tests, for all intents and purposes, don't really count. well, we should not be surprised at the low scores.

And comparing science tests from around the country is useless. Especially, when you consider what passes for "science" in places like Kansas.

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