Devil’s Advocate for the day…….

Unlike being principal for a day, being the devil’s advocate for a day allows one to really ask some tough questions. I don’t know that I can solve the problems noted from tough questions even though I know some of the places to begin the research.

Based on scores released by NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress or ‘The Nation’s Reportcard’) for science results in Grade 8 of school year 2011, there is little to cheer about. In fact, if one were to actually read between the lines of the below analysis by NAEP, people should be frightened.

….. those at the 90th percentile, which showed no significant change.

A five-point gain from 2009 to 2011 by Hispanic students was larger than the one-point gain for White students, an improvement that narrowed the score gap between those two groups.  (this translates to a total 4 point gain net)

Black students scored three points higher in 2011 than in 2009, narrowing the achievement gap with White students.

By contrast, the gender gap reflected in the 2009 science assessment remained essentially unchanged

Average scores for both girls and boys were higher in 2011 than in 2009; male students scored five points higher on average than female students in 2011.

Let me explain what I mean. If the entire test is worth 300 points, as noted below, a one, two or five point gain is almost worthless in merit. Another way to look at this is as follows:

The results are reported as average scores on a scale of 0 to 300 and also by three achievement levels: Basic, which denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for proficient work; Proficient, which represents solid academic performance; and Advanced, which represents superior work. The percentages of students scoring at or above the Basic and Proficient levels were higher in 2011 than in 2009. In 2011, 65 percent of students performed at or above Basic; 32 percent performed at or above Proficient; and 2 percent performed at Advanced.

Categories are below basic (not listed here however basic is only a baseline of competency), basic, proficient and advanced. If basic denotes partial mastery, less than basic is not even mastered. All students should be at basic as a baseline with proficient and advanced as the categories which show who the real from fake science students are in Grade 8.

The stats are reported in a most confounding way as they are so depressing. Let me break it down for you.

In 2011, 65% performed at or above basic. This means 35% of students, a full one-third of Grade 8 students in the U.S. could not hit the ‘basic’ mark, in Grade 8…..we are not even talking college. 32% performed at or above proficient. This means that of the 65% at or above basic, 32% of the 65% were proficient. Another 33% of students (65-32) is only basic. 2% performed at advanced levels. So, (65-2) 63% were not advanced, in fact only 2% of all students were advanced.

I don’t know about the rest of you but 33% below basic and 33% at basic means 66% or 2/3 of our Grade 8 students are not learning much in science. This is FRIGHTENING, not something to state ‘encouragement’ over.

“The gains are encouraging, but the racial and gender gaps show a cause for concern,” said David P. Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. “In order to compete in globally competitive and expanding fields like technology and medicine, we must make sure we give our students the tools necessary to excel in an important subject area.”

So, for today, some tough questions I wish to ask are the following:

(1) What percentage of schools in the U.S. use FOSS up to and including Gr 8?

(2) What are the other ‘line leaders’ for science education text books/packages/kits?  I believe the others to be Mcdougal Littell, Glencoe/McGraw-hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcout. 

(3) If FOSS states their kit is

FOSS is a research-based science curriculum for grades K–8 developed at the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California at Berkeley. The FOSS project began over 20 years ago during a time of growing concern that our nation was not providing young students with an adequate science education. The FOSS program materials are designed to meet the challenge of providing meaningful science education for all students in diverse American classrooms and to prepare them for life in the 21st century. Development of the FOSS program was, and continues to be, guided by advances in the understanding of how youngsters think and learn.

Science is an active enterprise, made active by our human capacity to think. Scientific knowledge advances when scientists observe objects and events, think about how they relate to what is known, test their ideas in logical ways, and generate explanations that integrate the new information into the established order. Thus the scientific enterprise is both what we know (content) and how we come to know it (process). The best way for students to appreciate the scientific enterprise, learn important scientific concepts, and develop the ability to think critically is to actively construct ideas through their own inquiries, investigations, and analyses. The FOSS program was created to engage students in these processes as they explore the natural world.

What does this mean in the way of test scores? And to that end, what is FOSS doing to shore up the achievement gap?

(4) What do other competitive programs say about their science text books/package/kits and what are they doing to shore up the achievement gap?

Since FOSS has been around 20 years, I would think the research based part of the program would start paying off some dividends in test scores.

It is impossible to blame science teachers as this issue is based in part or wholly on three factors.  NCLB did not start testing science until five years ago. The first year was to obtain a baseline for states. Teachers prior to NCLB and currently do not need a science background to teach science in middle school unless a particular district adopted the higher standards of credentialing.  Most teachers are terrified of teaching science unless they have a science education background. Last, but by far the least of problems is the shoddy text books and materials teachers are expected to use to provide a full, rich, exciting science curriculum.

I am guessing by now that many of you can follow the line of reasoning I am using. The devil is in the details and the details to our science success as a nation sucks.