2009 Science Data by NAEP… the good, bad, ugly and true.

Many people are amazed when I relate why I left teaching science in the classroom – as if it was the most ridiculous decision I could have made – job security was ‘everything’.   I  try to explain  I was using my feet to cast my vote against what I believe to be vapid.  I left the classroom four years ago after teaching science at a charter school – the final frontier for teaching to the test and only knowing about API and AYP in California.   I knew about and followed NAEP which meant API and AYP were only one piece of a larger and more complex puzzle regarding the process of  education. 

Interestingly, most teachers at any school and a fair amount of  principals are inadequately aware of what NAEP is to even have a quality education reform conversation, at least in California.  Education reform centered around such items as question banks for pre/post assessment and data collection (CST’s).  I can not even remember the last time I heard a teacher state the idea of anecdotal evidence.  Part of me felt overpaid for the job I was doing since I sure was not allowed to teach science in the manner which mattered (NAEP results as of Tuesday are indicative of this feeling http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/26/nations-report-card-science_n_814112.html ). 

At some point that last year in the classroom, it occurred to me I had not gone to graduate school to teach from a text book or kit -as the kind people of Lawrence Hall of Srecience – UC Berkeley (FOSS Kit) were trying to convince me to teach Gr 7 photosynthesis while writing the chemical equation on  paper with paper atoms!    When I discussed the possibilities of using various other hands on methods of exploring the concept of photosynthesis (Elodea in a test tube with indicator fluid – blow in CO2 and cap, allow to photosynthesize in sunlight outside and see the gas on the pond plant leaves and so forth), it was made clear to me ‘this was not what was on the test’ and therefore my students needed to do/study the lessons Lawrence Hall of Science constructed.  I accidentally on purpose cited the infamous Harvard Study (along with The Smithsonian Institution as part of my point of reference), to no avail.  Apparently what was found out all those years ago regarding science misconceptions never quite translated itself from the right coast to the left coast. 

I was caught between a rock and just a place – it was not a hard/difficult place, it was just a place.  Just teach science as you are told and follow the text book.  The rock was my conscience and my better sense of what a quality education could be.  There was nothing compelling about teaching science from a textbook.

The stage for my decision to leave the classroom was set by President Bush as he pushed  NCLB through Congress on an express plane to hell.  NAEP  (National Assessment of Educational Progress) was just beginning to be read/heard and appreciated by a broader group of educators. Although The  National Assessment of Educational Progress has been around since 1969, it seems only professors in the field of education paid attention.  Although NAEP had great data, it could not get traction with an administration which believed evolution was one of the signs of the second coming (NAEP uses scientific methods to obtain data).   It is difficult to refer to the above scenario as few people even understand NAEP.

 Grad schools these days do not discuss NAEP – very few people know what it is when I reference it as its name, the acronym or The Nation’s Report Card.    Apparently the idea of parity across the states is taboo since each state managed to carve out a special meaning for highly qualified teachers.

The NAEP science assessment is not specifically aligned to California’s science content standards. There is no national science curriculum and each state sets its own standards. California’s own science assessment system, as it has for other subjects, shows students making steady progress. – Mr. Torlakson

  This inability to discuss the larger idea of a national curriculum and parity is also part of why the data released 25 January 2011 was so unsettling.  People don’t really know what the data means, so they belittle it.

“As a science teacher, these results are troubling. Despite the enormous efforts being made by educators, we’re seeing the consequences of lagging behind other states in investing in education,” Torlakson said. “This test is a less-than-precise measure of student performance in California, but it is one more signal about where we stand and where we’re headed.  http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr11/yr11rel12.asp

The good part is it is ‘NOT TOO LATE’ for the U.S. to regroup and actually do something about our shoddy education system as it relates to science. The bad is it will be costly since there are many wonderful undereducated and/or poorly educated students laden with misconceptions which must be dealt with.  The ugly is it will be difficult to recruit the people with both the expertise in science/math and the mastery of educational process without the dollars.  Teach for America may have their grant – they are horrible at retention.  The true (truth) is, I left at just the right time – when nothing was happening.  There is hope things will turn around in the not too distant future.  I believe it would be great to teach science again – in a manner which matters.

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