Mediocre Isn’t Good Enough
On Tuesday, Jan. 31, the Fordham Institute released its “State of the State” analysis on science content standards across the country. They have done this before—earlier last year they reviewed Delaware’s Social Studies standards (we didn’t do very well), and in 2010 they reviewed ELA (we failed) and math (we got a B). With such a spotty record, I was almost afraid to see what we’d gotten in science.
So how did we do? Decidedly mediocre.
The Fordham Institute gave Delaware’s science standards a “C,” concluding that while our standards were “generally robust, detailed, and thoughtful” overall, “not all subjects are equally well covered; the document is uneven and its overall organization is somewhat cumbersome.” While we got high marks in the Life, Earth, and Physical Sciences, researchers took issue with our Physics and Chemistry standards. Researchers were particularly upset by our high school standards, lamenting the content and structure: “[it was] as if the writers took paragraphs from a physics text, shuffled them at random, added a few paragraphs about chemistry, and re-stacked them.” They also criticized our treatment of science process skills in isolation from content, and lack of math integration.
Nationally, the trend was not much different. Delaware was in the middle of the pack—over half of the states scored lower with “Ds” or “Fs.” As a country we averaged a low C, with researchers citing problems in the presentation (or lack thereof) of evolution, vagueness in the way most standards are written so as to be useless and virtually meaningless, treatment of science process skills (the skill of scientific inquiry) independently from science content, and lack of math integration. Delaware’s report echoed all of these complaints except that of evolution.
Researchers admitted that great science standards do not necessarily result in great science education, but they were quick to point out that poor science standards make good science education difficult. Recent national and state assessments support this—the 2009 international PISA assessment ranked the US 23rd out of 65 countries, while our own national NAEP assessment showed less than a third of our students are proficient in the subject (and virtually none are advanced).
Not all the news is bad, however. The authors did point out a few diamonds in the rough, giving straight “As” to California and Washington DC’s standards. In addition, while they could not yet endorse the Next Generation Science Standards because they are not due to be released until Fall of 2012, they did say that was one potential solution (Delaware is part of this effort, as are California and Massachusetts, both of which got high marks). In the meantime, they suggested that science teachers in states with standards that are lacking (such as ours) can look to those standards to help supplement their own.