To learn more science, take more science

You’d have to make to page 50 of the 2009 NAEP science assessment to get to the most important chart, writes Lynne Munson of Common Core.  Students who take more science classes learn more science. Students who took biology, chemistry and physics scored 22 percent higher than those who took just one science class, Munson calculates.

Only one third of those who took the 12th-grade science exam had taken three science classes, 38 percent had taken two and 28 percent just one.

Only 21 percent of 12th graders scored at the proficient or advanced level in science.

Most of the discussion is about race and ethnicity, Munson complains.  Nobody is talking about “what actually improves student achievement . . .  increasing student knowledge.”

The longer content, course-taking and curriculum remain on the sidelines, the further our students and our nation will fall behind.

Of course, it could be a chicken and egg thing:  The less-competent, less-motivated students are less likely to take chemistry and even less likely to take physics. But I’d love to see more discussion of the things we can change — what to teach and how to teach it — than about demographics.

Hechinger Report’s Go Deep on science includes:

How do we reform science education?

Why are other countries do better in science than the U.S.?

The future of U.S. science education

What makes a good science teacher?

About Joanne


  1. Joanne, are there any districts which have implemented “required” science courses, in a way that create natural experiments?

    Ie, to explore chicken-egg, couldn’t we examine districts where a group of (probably lower achieving) kids who previously were allowed to, say, take 1 or 2 sci classes during HS, were then required to take 3 to 4? Did the add’l courses improve science outcomes for them?

    I think you linked some weeks ago (?) to a study that essentially said additional required algebra courses had not led to actually knowing more math.

  2. I recently read that South Dakota has just mandated both chem and physics, in addition to the already-required bio, for all students. I think it either started in Fall 10 or will start in fall 11, so there’s no data yet. I doubt that it will make much difference, except for those who are really ready for it and who will be stuck in a class with un/underprepared kids. In the cities, there will probably be chem-lite and physics-lite sections but there will still be real classes. In the many small schools (many with fewer than 100 kids in HS) in the state, there will be just the one class and it will likely be so watered-down to render it useless for college preparation.

  3. PS – That has been the case for 8th-grade algebra for everyone. In the days when that was an honors-only class, the kids who took it did much better at x, y and z; not because of the algebra but because the algebra served as a proxy variable for identification of the top students. The same correlation-not-causation relationship also existed/exists with Latin, foreign languages, debate, pre-calc and AP classes etc. It also woks with numbers of books in the home etc – giving kids x pounds of books (as has been done in some locations) does no good if they’re only used as a rack for the video-game console.

  4. Chartermom says:

    Unfortunately the 12th grade data is broken down by state. NC requires three years of science for all but its cognitively disabled students and has since 2000. It would be interesting to see if NC did better on the NAEP with that requirement. It would be particularly interesting because NC provides a fair representation of urban, suburban and rural along with a strong minority representation. One potential weakness for the NAEP assessment is that the NC requirement is broken down into one physical science, one life science and one earth/environmental science which typically results in bio, chem or physical science and then either earth or environmental science at my kids’ school, so many kids skip physics in order to accomodate the earth science requirement. Although on the upside the most academically oriented take physics in addition to the other three and get four years of science.

  5. Tim-10-ber says:

    TN requires three year of high school science. While physical science in 8th grade is considered a high school class I think the kids still have to take three years in high school. One son had four years of high school level science. The other had five. Both had chemistry and physics. Wonder how they would have done. Will look at the data for TN. Since science is not stressed under NCLB there is little reason for government schools to focus on it. Hopefully science and history will become important…soon.