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State Math, Science Requirements Paying Off, Study Says

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States have made big strides in encouraging students to take tougher mathematics and science courses, an analysis by the Council of Chief State School Officers concludes.

Officials said that the study, which was paid for by the National Science Foundation, proves that if states mandate hard science and math courses and follow up with the needed resources and teacher training, they can overcome many obstacles to educational improvement.

"We believe, and this report helps demonstrate, that the level of student achievement in science and mathematics in a state depends upon the emphasis placed on [those subjects]'' by state officials, said Luther Williams, the N.S.F.'s assistant director for education and human resources.

But the report also shows that a massive performance gap continues to exist between minority and white students and that the gap may be growing.

Racial Gap Troubling

The report, entitled "State Indicators of Science and Mathematics Education--1993,'' is based on data from the 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress as well as the Schools and Staffing Surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics in 1988 and 1991.

It finds that:

  • Three-quarters of the states improved the rates of student enrollment in high-level math and science courses between 1990 and 1992.

Enrollment in algebra 1 increased in that period by an average of 9 percent to 91 percent of high school graduates.

Similarly, enrollment in chemistry increased 4 percent, to 49 percent of high school graduates, in the same period.

  • A decade-long increase in the enrollment of girls in upper-level math and science courses continued in 1992 with 44 percent of girls enrolled in a physics course last year as opposed to 33 percent in 1982.

Gordon Ambach, the executive director of the chiefs' council, and Mr. Williams, however, said that they were troubled by the findings, drawn from the NAEP data, that only 26 percent of black 8th graders nationwide achieved a score at or above the "basic'' level on the test compared with 73 percent of white students.

Rolf K. Blank, the director of the study, noted that the gap between minority and white scores closed steadily during the 1980's, but that momentum slowed in the early 1990's.

But he also suggested that recent changes in the NAEP examination may have produced a temporary slowing of minority improvement.

Mr. Ambach also noted that despite the encouraging results, "there are enormous distances to travel'' if students are to reach the national education goal of being first in the world in math and science by 2000.

"I think it's doubtful'' that the goal will be reached, he added.

Copies of the report may be obtained from the Council's State Education Assessment Center, 1 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Suite 700, Washington D.C. 20001-1431.

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