09/28/2012

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What about science? So often we hear parents talk about their children digging in the dirt, chasing butterflies during baseball games, and climbing trees. Or that their children are experimenting in the kitchen by mixing salt, water, and corn syrup…just to see what happens. Children are natural scientists, enthusiastic and motivated to discover more about the world around them. Research suggests that the majority of adult scientists developed their interest in the field prior to middle school (Maltese & Tai, 2010) suggesting that early exposure to science at the middle and younger grades is important to attract students into science and engineering (Tai, Liu, Maltese, & Fan, 2007). Yet many children do not receive adequate science instruction in the early grades. At a time when educators could turn children’s curiosity into a lifelong passion for science, instruction is often narrowly focused on mathematics and reading. In 2009, only one-third of U.S. fourth graders scored proficient or above in science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Inadequate exposure to science content among students, low levels of student motivation toward science, and poor teacher preparation and self-efficacy in science may lead to this marginal science achievement. Students who do not learn science during the elementary years are likely to have poor science understanding through adulthood. While we recognize the need for scientifically literate citizens, the time and demand for good elementary science teaching often does not get the same attention as mathematics and literacy. We might not realize that both mathematics and literacy are...
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Can standards raise the ceiling of student performance? In my last blog, I noted that a recent Harvard study found mixed results for raising state standards on student performance with one notable exception: low-income and minority eighth-graders in low- performing states appeared to benefit from their states adopting better academic standards. This would suggest that standards may have raised the floor on student performance, but what about the ceiling? Have more rigorous standards helped to raise the performance of students at the upper end of the spectrum? At a McREL Network for Innovative Education event, Harvard professor Martin West reported that after he dug deeply into data from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compared student performance in 30 developed nations, he noticed an alarming “other achievement gap” between the top performing American students and top performers in other developed nations. West analyzed results from the 2005 NAEP exam and the 2006 PISA exam, specifically looking at comparable levels of “advanced” student performance. His work showed that top six percent of U.S. students performed at the same levels as 28 percent of students in Taiwan, 21 percent of students in Finland, 15 percent of students in Canada, and 13 percent of students from Australia. So why do other nations have larger percentages of students performing at the same level as top students from the United States? Have we set our standards too low? One of the premises behind the Common Core State Standards, in fact, is that we need “fewer, clearer, higher” standards to move...

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