President Bush's new education initiative calls for school accountability for science
In an effort to emphasize the importance of science in the classroom, President Bush has proposed adding science to the accountability requirements that all schools nationwide must meet annually, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
As part of the president's education proposal, called the American Competitiveness Initiative, schools would have to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements in science, in addition to the math and reading requirements already in place under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB requires that schools develop science assessments to be administered at the elementary-, middle- and high-school levels starting in the 2007-2008 school year. Schools are not yet held accountable for these tests, according to U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Valerie Smith.
For science to become an AYP requirement, Congress must approve the president's proposal. "The next point at which it will be appropriate for Congress to discuss it is next year for the NCLB re-authorization," Smith said. At that time, Congress will assess whether NCLB has been effective in meeting its goals and will consider adding a science criterion.
Biology teacher Elaine Goldberg believes that the science teachers at Blair have actively sought to improve student performance and will use the same approach if AYP expands to include science. The science department has already taken steps to ensure that students are prepared for the standardized Biology High School Assessment (HSA), which will be a graduation requirement beginning with this year's freshmen. The department has restructured its biology curriculum to correspond to the county's, and aspects of the test have been incorporated into classroom instruction. "We modify every year. We're always talking with each other to improve," Goldberg said. "We want the kids to be successful, even if it's not a requirement."
However, science resource teacher Jennifer Kempf noted that past scores on the Biology HSA have been disappointing, citing Blair's passing rate of 67.5 percent on the test last year. "Over the past four years, it's wavered one or two percent. It's not as high as it should be," she said.
Struggling to meet AYP
The major goal of the president's proposal is to prepare students to become competitive, successful professionals in scientific and research fields. In an increasingly technology-oriented global economy, American students have been lagging behind their foreign peers. "The initiative is to increase the rigor of all coursework through high school," said Smith. "Data shows that our fourth graders are relatively [comparable] to their international counterparts, but by the time they get to twelfth grade, they've fallen behind."
The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) supports adding science as an AYP requirement. "Maryland has a history of believing in accountability. There's an old saying: 'If it isn't tested, it doesn't get done,'" said MSDE spokesman Bill Reinhard.
Kempf thinks science also aids students in other subjects. "Why don't you use science as a vehicle to teach math and reading? It brings it all together," she said.
If passed, the initiative will increase pressure on science teachers to ensure that their students perform at the prescribed levels. For a school to meet AYP under the current system, it must fulfill 37 criteria, according to Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union. Each of nine racial and special-service subgroups of students must be proficient on both the math and reading standardized tests and have a 95 percent participation rate for both tests, adding up to 36 requirements. The final criterion is the school's overall graduation rate. Adding science to the requirements will increase the number of criteria from 37 to 55, which Packer believes will make it more difficult for schools to meet AYP.
Failure to meet AYP proficiency results in consequences for the school, and if the trend continues, a failing school could be restructured by the state. Packer said he does not support NCLB because of its all-or-nothing requirements. "A school could potentially meet 54 of 55 criteria and fail AYP," Packer said. "It just doesn't make any sense." The focus should be on providing resources to schools, not on punishment, he said.
States have projected that schools will have difficulty meeting AYP requirements in the coming years, as the requirements increase each year towards NCLB's ultimate goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014. According to Packer, the California Department of Education estimated that 99 percent of its schools will fail to meet AYP by 2014.
State legislatures and many independent groups have appealed to lawmakers to change the current setup of NCLB, and 30 bills have been introduced regarding this issue, according to Packer. Because of the debate over the current NCLB policy, he does not believe that science will be added to AYP before Congress meets next year to reauthorize the law. Packer predicts, however, that changes will be made during this period. "Eighty national groups jointly signed a statement to Congress to make changes to NCLB. There's a growing chorus of voices," he said.
To stress the importance of taking rigorous courses in science and math, the president's initiative also calls for expanding the Advanced Placement (AP) program. The goal of this facet of the initiative is to train 70,000 additional teachers nationwide, drastically increase the number of students taking AP courses and triple the number who pass the exams to 700,000 by 2012, according to Smith.
Kempf does not believe it is possible to get so many teachers prepared to teach AP classes. "We already have a dearth of teachers in the county," she said. Instead of having more teachers for AP courses, Kempf believes these teachers should be used to reduce class sizes.
The education programs of the initiative account for $380 million in next year's federal budget request and more than $136 billion over 10 years to support research, development, education and workforce training, according to Smith. "The root begins with education," she said.
Kathy Jee. Kathy Jee is a junior in the Magnet Program and is excited to be a part of the wonderful Silver Chips staff. When not in school, she enjoys playing basketball and obsessing over "American Idol." She is looking forward to another stressful year of school... More »