RE: Is NCLB Why Students Score Low on Science Tests?

shortlink: http://shawnbeightol.com/blog/?p=226

Email to Science supervisors of Miami-Dade County Public Schools January 31, 2011

RE: “Is ‘No Child Left Behind’ to Blame for Poor Science Test Scores?

When I first came into the science classroom, we played at science:

we used a large field subdivided into 1 meter^2 plots to sample species (the Gleason model, see http://www.ime.unicamp.br/sinape/sites/default/files/Resumo_gSARModel.pdf ), carbonates, total organic carbon, %water/moisture, pH, etc. We produced 3D surface plots of the results that were analyzed by the students for suitability for various applications (agriculture, industry, residential, nature preserves). Kids earned funny money based on their GPA’s with which they bought the land and developed a community (SimFlorida).

We launched rockets, only after building them and solving the quadratic for the angle of launch needed to hit a target downrange based on the engine thrust and drag forces…

We made recycled paper.

We turned a termite-rotted portable classroom from WWII era crammed with too many kids and 4 preps (chem, physical science, biology, and anatomy/Physiology) into a space station with officers (including a captain’s chair bolted to the center of the floor from one of my boats!) and crew. Each had duties to keep the space ship sustainable – energy production, hydroponic food production, recycling, environmental control.

We built and soldered colorimeters (absorption spectrometers) connected to dinosaur IBM XT’s programmed in old GW-BASIC and used them to prepare and test colored molarity solutions.

That was before NCLB.

That was before FCAT and associated teacher/school grading program.

Market forces have necessarily pushed all of us to “teach to the test.”

My kids are taking interims that are comprised of approximately 1/4 chemistry right now – in chemistry class. Electron configuration by whatever codename the state wants to use (next generation SSS?) must wait…

At least if they’re going to require tests like this, make it count for the kids. Build a national educational and occupational framework that makes it clear to kids that studying and effort and achievement count for something real and personal, not just a school grade that will mean nothing to them in 2 years.

Perhaps the loss in quality and depth is attributable to the lack of emphasis on science achievement with individual accountability for the student. Perhaps it is the result of turning the art and profession of teaching into a “paint-by-number” activity encoded in the myriad of standards and dictated in the curriculum “pacing” and content.

Back in the day, I never looked to the state to tell me what to teach – I used my knowledge of the subject and my students to determine where I should start and what would be progress that I could be proud/satisfied of/with.

It should be said that “back then,” it was before students could sit inside for 8 hours a day (national average) “facebooking” or playing call of duty or grandtheft auto. If a kid was interested in computers in the early 90′s, he/she was into building and programming them. A science student had some experience with magnets, with fishing (outdoors), with aquatic safety (kayaking, jet skiing, surfing), with taking apart machines (electronics, bicycles, cars).

Shawn

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