Testing Science

scienceWhen you are on the road, you can not avoid CNN. It’s in the Airport. CNN, and its ilk, comprise at least 80% of the TV channels in most hotels (trying to get you to resort to their $12 movies on demand).

The other day, I was working on a presentation in the airport when I overheard are report that ran something like this,

The Bush administration is now adding Science to the accountability standards for the No Child Left Behind legislation. Schools are already held accountable for the tested performance of students in reading and math, but schools will now risk punishment of their students do not perform to standards in science.

Now, that was a rough paraphrasing, but there are two things about this report that bother and worry me. Number one was the impression that including science was a recent idea of the Administration, when phasing in science has been a part of NCLB all along. But that’s petty.

The second part worries me. It worries me that schools are going to be held accountable for

how much science students learn,
not how much like scientists students learn to become.

Certainly, students need to be learning science. But in a time of rapid change and an information environment that is increasingly being dominated by blogs and other forms of less formally validated content, the scientific method should become a Basic Skills. Students must learn (relearn) to be curious, to inquire, to make hypotheses, to research, investigate, and test their ideas, and to act on what they learn and teach themselves.

Many states have worked higher order elements of reading and math into their NCLB mandated tests. But with continuing budget constraints (some of my readers will deny that the budget cuts exist), the trend will likely lean more toward recall style testing, leading to regimented, fact-based teaching.

I don’t think that this is the way to encourage more children to become scientists and engineers.

2¢ Worth

7 thoughts on “Testing Science”

  1. As a long-time science teacher, I share your concern. As soon as you start developing content-area standards in a subject like science, pretty soon the basket is overloaded with information about every conceivable topic in science because every constituency wants to make sure their subject is included. In some states, for instance, agricultural science has been added to their standards. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, other than they don’t remove anything else to make room for it, so it’s just squeezed in. In the end, the kids get an exposure to science that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

    I was at a conference years ago when a speaker referred to a large poster he once saw in a science lab. It simply read “Science is what scientists do.” (I’ve adapted that in my presentations sometimes to “Technology is what technologists do.”) That can certainly be measured, but not affordably at every grade from third through tenth. You’re right – the simple economics of annual testing will drive this to only measuring basic knowledge, rather than the real problem-solving skills of science.

    On the other hand, I’m hopeful that the push-back against this will reach fruition before it comes to pass. I have no problem with instituting an effective system of measurement to generate data for improving education, and making sure that every student gets the best education possible. But you have to measure the right things!

  2. Ew, that’s like making students do a Science Fair project every year. There are one or two people who like “science” (whatever people take that to mean) more because of it and then the rest who vehemently hate science-the-subject-forced-down-your-throat-at-school (and thus, science by relation). That’s too bad, because science is cool. I mean, we’re all scientist-like when we act and react to the changing environments around us.

  3. Hi David,

    Every time I read your 2c worth I remember how lucky I am to teach in an innovative New Zealand classroom. All this accountability seems to lead to teaching to the test and then when is there time for experiences, exploration, learning without a pre conceived outcome in mind … I could go on … I notice the difference in the types of uses for classblogmeister too. Freedom to enjoy learning and explore should not be under-rated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *