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Posts Tagged ‘Standardized test’

No Children, But Science Getting “Left Behind” in the US

January 25, 2011 1 comment

In 2002, the Bush administration instituted the ‘No Child Left Behind’ Act (NCLB). The act was designed to institute standards-based education reform, in which standardized tests would be given to students all over the country, and largely increased funding in public schools.

Although some statistics show positive results, it is very difficult to measure success of the program since it was instituted in every state, giving no basis for comparison.  It has also been criticized for putting too much focus on the standardized testing, possibly encouraging teachers to “teach to the test”.

This teaching to the test problem has started to show itself in the science scores of many American students. Because NCLB focuses primarily on reading, writing and math, many other subjects get ignored.

The National Assessment of Education Project (NAEP) released the results of the 2009 Science assessment today. As reported by Science Magazine, the results are not good.

The 2009 assessment, which focused on science, found that 40% of high school seniors perform below the basic level in science and only 1% at the advanced level. Younger students did marginally better, with 29% of fourth-graders and 38% of eighth-graders falling below basic and 1% and 2% at the advanced level, respectively.

How does this compare to previous years? It is actually difficult to say:

Test officials, which call NAEP “the nation’s report card,” say the content has changed so much that the results can’t be compared with previous assessments in 1996, 2000, and 2005.

The test has been revamped in recent years to better reflect what the students learn in a particular grade, and also measure how students are able to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real life situations; a skill particularly useful in the field of science.

Science is simply not getting enough attention in the classroom. It seems to be getting passed over in favour of teaching more reading and writing skills.

Reading and writing are certainly important, but does that mean these subjects should be emphasized so much that other subjects start to suffer? This seems like the wrong direction in which to go when it comes to education reform.

So how does the US of A compare to the rest of the world in science, math and reading scores?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released its 2009 country rankings in these skills. The USA ranked 23rd of all countries tested in science scores. Shanghai-China ranked #1 in the science category, with Canada placing 8th.

Standardized testing has a lot of drawbacks. And although reading, writing and math skill are important, if students don’t learn how to apply those skills to their daily life then what was the point in learning them in the first place?

Simply regurgitating facts from a textbook is not an effective learning strategy. Application is how we truly get math and writing skills mastered, so science education should not continue to be neglected.

Simple Writing Exercise Boosts Grades of Female Physics Students

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Although men and women are equal in their abilities concerning math and physics, women still seem to lag a bit when it comes to grades in the Physics classroom.

Consider the classroom of Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado. Female students got grades, on average, 10% lower than male students. A significant difference. Miyake knew that this had nothing to do with ability, so how does one fix it?

Well he tried a technique that had been shown to increase the exam scores of black students in American high schools. These students were victims of the “stereotype threat“, which is when an unfair stereotype is applied to a group to which you belong (i.e. black students do worse in school than white students). However, after utilizing a technique called “values affirmation”, the scores of the black students dramatically increased. In fact, the increase was greatest amongst the poorest students. What happened?

The technique involves a writing exercise in which the student writes a few sentences about their core values (family, religion, creativity etc.) and write why those values are important to them. The exercise takes no more than 15 minutes. This was done twice at the start of the school year, and the results show a large increase in the students scores.

So could it work for women too? Women also suffer from the unfair stereotype that they are not as good at math/physics as men. Therefore, they don’t have as much confidence and don’t do as well. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But Miyake did an experiment. He divided his introductory Physics class into 2 groups, with equal amounts of males and females in each group.

At the start of the year, he asked Group 1 (the “values affirmation” group) to write about their core values and why they are important to them. He then separately asked Group 2 (the “control” group) to write about the values of someone else and why they might be important to another person. Both groups were told that this was an exercise in writing ability, not physics grades.

He then compared the results of the 2 groups with their final marks in the course, as well as how well they did on the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE), which is a standardized test about basic physical principles. These were the results:

As you can see, the women’s scores increased, whereas the men’s scores remained largely unchanged.

This is quite a result. With a simple writing exercise designed to instill confidence and reduce the effect of the stereotype threat, exam scores in the class increased by an average of about 5%, and about 13% for the FMCE.

So what we find is that it’s not enough to debunk the myth that men are better than women at physics, we have to get women to believe it as well. To believe in themselves.

Why am I so interested in this issue? I have written about it a couple of times. Mainly because it frustrates me. I tutored during my time in University and many more girls asked for tutoring than guys, because they didn’t do as well. This was mainly because, in my opinion, they simply didn’t have as much self-confidence when it came to the exams.

“I’m no good at Physics, I just want to pass,” was a phrase I heard more than once.

“No, you will not just pass,” I told them, “you will do well.”

But making them believe it was tough, because of all the stereotypes they no doubt encountered through their lives. So I would tell them about these kinds of studies, how girls are just as good as guys at science/math. I even told them how I came in 3rd place in my senior year research project class. 1st and 2nd place went to two girls.

So it’s an uphill battle, but progress is being made. If I ever have a daughter, you can be damn sure she will not grow up thinking that she is not as good as guys at science or math.