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Math, Science Test Scores Up, NSF Reports

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Arlington, Va.

Students are taking more math and science courses, and they're scoring higher on national tests in those subjects, a new overview of math and science education says.

"The vital signs aren't peaking yet, but the recovery process is under way," said Luther S. Williams, the assistant director of education and human resources for the National Science Foundation, which released the report at a news conference here late last month.

"Indicators of Science and Mathematics Education 1995" is a compilation and analysis of existing data from such sources as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. "The Learning Curve," a preface to the report, was released in March. (See Education Week, March 27, 1996.)

Since 1980, student performance on the NAEP science and math tests has improved slightly for all age and ethnic groups, as it has in the National Education Longitudinal Study tests. Both tests are ongoing federally supported programs.

Mean scores on the math sections of the Scholastic Assessment Test and the American College Testing Assessment Program --the nation's two commonly used college-entrance exams--also have increased over the past decade.

At the same time, performance gaps between various racial groups have narrowed, though black and Hispanic students still score significantly lower than Asian-American and white students. And few students of any race or ethnic group demonstrated proficiency in problem-solving in the more difficult math questions on NAEP.

The report cautions, however, that "NAEP and NELS offer a very narrow window on the complexities of student achievement. They measure just a small portion of what students learn in school, and they measure it imperfectly."

"We need to close regional differences; see more commitment to systemwide reform; and acquire more consistent, current, complete data," Mr. Williams said. "We are still in the middle of the pack internationally in math and science education, but I am very encouraged by some recent results coming from school systems where reforms have been under way."

Other Findings

In addition, the report says:

  • Minority-group members are still underrepresented among teachers. Though 30 percent of students were minority-group members in 1993, the percentage of minority teachers ranged from 6 percent in higher grades to 10 percent at the elementary level.
  • Teachers' job satisfaction is high, with an overwhelming majority of math and science teachers reporting that they enjoy their jobs. Ninety-four percent of science and 97 percent of math teachers enjoy teaching, according to the 1993 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education.
  • Fewer than 5 percent of elementary school science and math teachers majored in science, science education, math, or math education. But the percentages increase in middle school, and again in high school, to more than 60 percent.
  • Elementary teachers reported feeling less well-prepared to teach science than their colleagues in higher-level schools did. In 1993, 76 percent of elementary school teachers reported feeling "very well-qualified" to teach reading and language arts, and 60 percent felt the same about math and social studies, but only 26 percent felt prepared to teach science.

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