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Math, Science Students Tackling Harder Classes



The percentage of high school students taking higher-level mathematics and science courses increased significantly between 1990 and 1996, according to a biennial report on the condition of K-12 science and math education.

From 1990 to 1996, the proportion of graduating seniors who had taken three years of high school math rose to 62 percent from 49 percent.

The proportion of high schoolers who took three years of high school science went up 10 percentage points in those years--from 45 percent to 55 percent.

The report from the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers is the fourth in a series and presents data from the 1995-96 school year. It tracks state progress in student achievement, course enrollments, teacher supply and preparation, and instructional practices. The research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

"State Indicators of Science and Mathematics Education 1997," $18 each, including mailing and handling, from CCSSO Publications, 1 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20001-1431; (202) 336-7016. It is also available on the CCSSO's World Wide Web site at www.ccsso.org.

Technology Personnel: When school districts budget for technology, they have the most difficulty paying for people, a study by the U.S. General Accounting Office concludes.

Based on the experience of five districts, the study found that financing staff positions to support technology is difficult because bonds and special levies for technology often may not be used for personnel costs, and one-time grants are not well suited to paying salaries.

As a result, districts experience shortfalls in maintenance and technical support because existing staff members are overburdened. That then leads to reduced computer use because computers are out of service, the report says.

The study by the congressional investigative agency, which also describes the diverse ways schools find technology dollars, is based on the experiences of the Davidson County, N.C., schools; the Gahanna-Jefferson public schools in Ohio; the Manchester, N.H., district; the Roswell, N.M., district; and the Seattle public schools.

The districts were selected because they had made some progress in implementing technology programs and represented a cross section of districts in size, community type, geographic location, and amount of state assistance.

"School Technology: Five School Districts' Experiences in Funding Technology Programs," free, from the GAO, PO Box 37050, Washington, DC 20013; (202) 512-6000. It is also available on the World Wide Web at www.gao.gov/reports.html.

Parent Involvement: Although the vast majority of the country's schools communicate with parents about student performance and curricula, they appear less uniformly successful in getting parents involved in school matters, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics says.

The report by the data-gathering arm of the U.S. Department of Education is based on a survey of administrators at 900 public schools serving students in grades K-8. As many as 85 percent of the respondents said they gave parents information about their schools' overall performance, instructional goals, and student progress.

But asked if "most or all" parents attended open houses, 72 percent of administrators in schools with low concentrations of student poverty said yes, compared with just 28 percent in those with high concentrations of pupils from poor families.

And while most schools offered opportunities for parents to volunteer, the percentage of administrators who were satisfied with the amount of parent volunteerism dropped significantly among those serving poorer families.

"Parent Involvement in Children's Education: Efforts by Public Elementary Schools," free, from the National Library of Education, (800) 424-1616. It is also available on the World Wide Web at nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/.

Milwaukee Assessments: A testing watchdog group has issued a report praising the way the Milwaukee school district assesses student learning but cautioning that improvements must still be made.

The district's performance assessments and portfolios of student work "represent a major step forward in district-level assessment practice," says the report by Monty Neill, the acting executive director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, based in Cambridge, Mass.

FairTest, a longtime critic of standardized testing, recommends that Milwaukee drop its use of traditional tests, such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and beef up teacher training.

The review was written in light of "Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems," a 1995 report by the National Forum on Assessment, co-chaired by Mr. Neill. A grant from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation paid for the Milwaukee evaluation.

"Assessment in the Milwaukee Public Schools," $15 each from FairTest, 342 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139; (617) 864-4810; fax: (617) 497-2224.

At-Risk Students: Students identified as being at risk of dropping out of high school are far less likely to enroll in a four-year college than students with none of the designated risk factors, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The report by the branch of the U.S. Department of Education examines the critical junctures at which high school graduates with risk factors, including low grades and low socioeconomic status, veer from the "pipeline to college enrollment." Analyzing the patterns of 1992 graduates, it also identifies factors that helped college-going at-risk students beat the odds.

Sixty-four percent of at-risk students who enrolled in a four-year college, for example, had completed a math "gatekeeping" course such as calculus in high school, the study found. College-going at-risk students were also more likely to report having received help from school officials when filling out college applications than at-risk students who did not enroll in college.

"Confronting the Odds: Students At Risk and the Pipeline to Higher Education," $8, from the Government Printing Office, New Orders, Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; (202) 512-1800; fax: (202) 512-2250. It is also on the NCES World Wide Web page at nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/.

College Tuition: The rate of tuition increases at public four-year colleges and universities has stabilized after costs ballooned earlier this decade, a report by two Washington higher education organizations concludes.

The cost of tuition and fees at those public institutions has risen by an average of 7.9 percent annually since the 1989-90 school year.

The largest increases took place between 1989-90 and 1995-96, when state appropriations for higher education dropped by 8 percent, according to the report by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Still, the report argues, college costs should be put in perspective. This year, most undergraduates at public four-year colleges attend schools that charge less than $3,000 in tuition and fees.

"College Costs and Student Financial Aid: 1989-90 to 1997-98," free, from AASCU, 1 Dupont Circle, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 293-7070, or from NASULGC, 1 Dupont Circle, Suite 710, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 770-0818.

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