Elementary kids get science grades, but no science

Science instruction is vanishing from elementary schools in Kansas and nearby states, according to a report to the Kansas Board of Education. As many as one in five elementary teachers puts science grades on report cards, but doesn’t teach the subject.

George Griffith, superintendent of a western Kansas district and a member of a committee writing new science standards, surveyed more than 900 elementary teachers in Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Griffith said teachers responding to the survey said they reported grades in science because there was a spot on the grade card for it. But the teachers felt so pressured to increase performance in the high-stakes reading and math tests that they have cut back or eliminated class time for science.

More than 55 percent of K-6 teachers have decreased science education by 30 minutes to an hour per week, Griffith said.

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  1. Oh sure, it’s because of math and reading tests. Couldn’t have anything to do with the Kansas school board’s insistence that religious beliefs should be taught as “science”. There’s probably a big chunk of teachers in Kansas who believe they’re endangering their students’ souls if they learn any science, and a bunch more who are afraid to teach it for fear of blowback from parents or administrators.

  2. This sort of thing has been happening in California for years now. Most every report card from elementary school contained a grade for science or art when the subject had not been taught AT ALL.

  3. “That which gets measured gets done.” (attributed to Peter Drucker.)

    I suppose the corollary is, “that which is not measured does not get done.”

    Are the grades all As? Would that be grade inflation, if so? Or are the grades distributed on a curve, to match the teacher’s opinion of the student?

  4. This sounds similar to what I experienced as an elementary school kid in the early 80s in FL. I know that we got grades and had both science and social studies books, but I don’t remember a whole lot of time being spent on them.

  5. And we wonder why as a society we lack a basic understanding of science and the scientific method (since it’s not being taught in elementary schools anymore)…


    • Bill (another Bill) says:

      None of this is really new. Not until 12th grade Physics was any real understanding of the Scientific Method taught, and that was in a highly regarded mid-western high school in the late 1950s. By the time my kids were in the California educational system in the late ’80s the actual science content was near zero, replaced by a near Gaia worship.

      Parents need to spend a lot more time and effort investigating what passes for curriculum today. And then there’s the whole question of teaching effectiveness…..sigh..

      • I guess my question for both Bills and for Lu-Lu is what do you think should be taught in elementary school about science? They can’t really learn the periodic table or Newtonian mechanics or read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Even the “scientific method” seems like a stretch for 3rd graders.

        What they should be learning about is measurement (rulers, scales, liquid measures, converting from one unit to another), understanding of the natural world like moon phases and seasons and tree leaf coloration and the Solar System and peninsulas and volcanoes and something about eggs and seeds and live births, and doing projects like planting a seed to watch it grow, or watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly.

        The reason Lu-Lu doesn’t remember this is that it’s so much a background of her life that she doesn’t remember ever not knowing it. But it’s not as cut-and-dried as the Bills want it. I think you Bills just have unreasonable expectations for elementary school science. Now of course if teachers aren’t even teaching about butterflies, then we have a problem.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          I guess my question for both Bills and for Lu-Lu is what do you think should be taught in elementary school about science?

          Astronomy and dinosaurs!

          Really. These are good things to learn about in K-5. The more formal and abstract stuff can wait until later.

        • Wahoofive, it is possible that we did a lot of science that I don’t remember…but I had a lot of spare time in elementary school, and once we got science and social studies books (3rd grade?) I usually read most of them, while wishing that we actually did it in class. I was always excited about the part of the schedule labeled ‘science’ but remember being disappointed when, after a month or 2, that part of the day just seemed to disappear. I remember a student teacher doing a unit on weather and clouds, a unit on different kinds of rocks, and a 4th grade teacher bringing in a cow heart to show us. I love science (and have degrees in biochemistry and genetics) and always looked forward to it.

          My complaint isn’t about content…we homeschool using core knowledge, so in K-1 we’ve done dinosaurs, weather, seeds, and magnets…very age appropriate material. My observation is based on remembering wishing that we would spend some time doing the science that was on the schedule, or not spend the bit of ‘science time’ reading, very slowly aloud, a few paragraphs from the book and then moving on.

  6. Actually,

    I’m in agreement with Mark, astronomy, dinosaurs, nature, and the like would be about the science expectation I’d have for grades K-5. In addition, weights and measures, distances, and so forth would also be appropriate at that age level.

    I don’t think instruction in the periodic table would be useful, but then again, you could teach a kid about rocks and minerals, the environment, and here is a very cool experiment which gets kids excited.

    Take some table sugar (C12H22O11) and place in a beaker…add some Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4)…you’ll get a big black carbon snake from the chemical reaction (always wear safety glasses and gloves when handling acids or bases).

  7. I don’t think the blame lies in standardized tests and NCLB. Did elementary teachers ever teach science? In the 90’s some schools added science specialists but most of those have vanished. The truth is that the average elementary teacher is ill prepared to teach science. They are much more interested in teaching Language Arts and they do a great job at that. It’s time to credential k-5 teachers with subject area credentials and split the day between teachers, with one teacher working on LA and social studies and the other on STEM.