Monday, March 29, 2010

Disappointing News on Science Requirements Use in High Schools

This report, from the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, is something of a blow for the push for more science in our schools. It was passed onto me by Seattle educator, Joanne Robbins.

Basically the report, Passing Through Science, found that it did not help students learn more science and may have even hurt their college chances. From the article:

Though CPS high school students took and passed more college–prep science courses under the new policy, overall performance in science classes did not improve, with five of every six students earning Cs or lower. College-going rates declined significantly among graduates with a B average or better in science, and they dipped for all students when researchers controlled for changes in student characteristics over time.

The report, “Passing Through Science: The Effects of Raising Graduation Requirements in Science on Course–taking and Academic Achievement in Chicago,” has significant implications for districts across the country considering requiring a college–preparatory curriculum for all students. In 2009, 21 states required all students to take four years of math and a minimum of three years of science to graduate high school.

In 1997, CPS mandated that all incoming ninth–graders take three years of college–preparatory science coursework. This policy change occurred several years before many states raised their science requirements and eight years before the state of Illinois instituted a more modest increase.

Key findings were:
  • The new curriculum policy ended low expectations for science coursework. Immediately after the change, almost all graduates passed at least three full–year science classes.
  • Most graduates received a C average or lower in science, which was similar to the performance of graduates before the policy change.
  • Because of policy’s structure, students were less likely after the policy to take both physics and chemistry, a combination that is common for students aspiring to college nationally.
  • Graduation rates declined by four percentage points in the first year of the policy and another percentage point in the next year, after accounting for changes in the backgrounds and prior achievement of students entering CPS high schools.
  • College enrollment did not increase under the new policy; nor did college persistence (students were no more likely to stay in college for at least two years).
Also from the study:

What is more, ending remedial math and English coursework in CPS and requiring Algebra I and survey literature for all ninth-graders did not improve academic outcomes at all. Thus, it is not clear that mandating specific science courses for an entire district would have the same effect as individual students choosing to take the courses, or schools choosing to offer advanced
coursework in science. science content?

The authors' findings:

“Expanding and improving science education is a worthy goal, and adopting a universal college–preparatory curriculum that includes rigorous science requirements is an important first step,” the report’s authors write. “However, policymakers must pay attention to the lessons learned by CPS: Simply exposing more students to more science may not by itself produce a single extra science major—much less the influx of new scientists envisioned nationally.”

Simply put, graduation requirements have limited potential to impact learning in a district where nearly half of the students already fail to graduate.

In an effort to increase equity for students with low incoming test scores, CPS designed a policy that would enable all students to take 3 years of science while forcing students with low and high incoming test scores to take the same set of courses. The goal was to prevent students from languishing in low-track courses. However, the policy also inadvertently made the science curriculum less demanding for top students.

The outcome of the CPS experiment seems to corroborate other recent research showing it is extremely difficult to detrack students without also lowering the achievement of the strongest students.

Previous CCSR research has shown that college knowledge—the extent to which students have information on how to prepare and effectively participate in the college search and selection process and effective guidance and support in making decisions about college—is an important factor in shaping students’ college access and success. This new study offers further
evidence that no instructional reform, in isolation, can adequately address the “potholes” on the road to college faced by students; any effort to improve college enrollment must be accompanied by support structures that make students’ hard work pay off.

I absolutely agree with the above paragraph. It is very difficult to navigate college if no one in your family has gone before. Even if someone has, it is a lot for a student to do on their own. (It's not a matter of being a helicopter parent - there is truly a volume of information to plow through and keep track of for any applicant.) This is why I advocate getting back our Career Counselors in our high schools.

I like the student survey, Appendix C, pages 49-50. To me, this kind of survey could give a lot of insights into how a teacher is reaching students. It has no questions on whether the student likes the teacher, etc. but asks more about student interest, teacher expectations, the topic in specific and what they call "classroom personalism" which seems to be how well the teacher reaches the student. The categories here are things like "notices if I have trouble learning something", "really listens to what I have to say", "helps me catch up if I am behind", etc.

2 comments:

dan dempsey said...

So what does this tell us about Core-24 ???????

"Though CPS high school students took and passed more college–prep science courses under the new policy, overall performance in science classes did not improve, with five of every six students earning Cs or lower.

College-going rates declined significantly among graduates with a B average or better in science, and they dipped for all students when researchers controlled for changes in student characteristics over time.

Maybe kids who would like to take metal shop and become machinists, should have a metal shop in their remodeled high schools .... instead of more computers made by Dell and running Windows ... etc. etc.

emeraldkity said...

When my daughter started high school, she was 1.5 years behind in math, despite having gotten Bs in that subject through middle school. ( according to Garfields placement test)

She already knew, that she was interested in science, which had been a frustration in her middle school, because she had been placed in a lower performing science class ( as determined by teacher)

However, Garfield had two programs- first ACE, and later Pathways, that provided her with extra support for math, and by junior year, she was at grade level and eligible to take honors chem ( in which she earned an spring semester, due not only to her hard work but the hard work of the teacher and the student teacher in providing extra support outside of class. ( neither program exists anymore as far as I know)

It isn't going to do any good to lower standards- why not find out where the problems are and support that?

But I also agree that a science course doesn't have to be bio/chem/physics in a way that is easily identifiable as college prep.

All those things can be taught in more applied science courses- for example, welding in an art or auto repair/metal shop class.