Black Achievement in Science and Math Up During 80's

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WASHINGTON--Black students' achievement in mathematics and science has improved substantially during the 1980's, preliminary data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress suggest.

The gains in mathematics on the 1986 assessment are attributable to increased black enrollments in higher-level courses, according to the National Science Board, which released the findings.

But despite these improvements, the board notes in a new report, minority achievement in math and science continues to lag behind that of white students, and performance by all students remains low.

Overall, there have been "no statistically significant changes'' in students' NAEP scores in the two subjects since 1977, concludes the panel, the policymaking body of the National Science Foundation.

And minorities and women--who scored below men on the assessment--continue to be underrepresented in science and engineering fields, it notes.

"If we want to maintain the professional workforce we need to sustain our scientific strength,'' said Roland W. Schmitt, the board's chairman, "we must do a better job of getting secondary students interested in science--especially female students and minorities--and we must better prepare them for college-level science and engineering curricula.''

In a statement accompanying the report, the board urges the NSF to continue its efforts as a "catalyst'' to spur state and local governments to improve science and math curricula and teacher-training programs.

In addition, it states, "the federal government also has a role to play in selected activities with high impact that can help local communities improve their schools.''

Biennial Report

Complete results from the NAEP tests are expected to be released later this year. The preliminary findings were included in "Science and Engineering Indicators--1987,'' the eighth in a biennial series of science-board reports that collect data on U.S. science and technology.

On the 1986 science tests, according to the report, black 9-year-olds answered an average of 46.1 percent of the questions correctly, compared with 40.5 percent in 1977-78. Black 13-year-olds improved from 47.6 percent correct in 1977-78 to 56.6 percent correct in 1986--when, for the first time, they outperformed their Hispanic peers.

Black 17-year-olds' science scores rose from 44.7 percent correct to 48.1 percent correct over the same period.

On the math tests administered during that period, black 9-year-olds' scores improved from 40.9 percent correct to 49.4 percent; 13-year-olds' scores rose from 43.2 percent correct to 47.7 percent; and 17-year-olds' scores rose from 56.8 percent correct to 60.1 percent.

Survey on Attitudes

This year's board report--which provides information on the nation's science-related education, employment, and expenditures--also includes, for the first time, survey data comparing public attitudes toward science and technology in the United States and Japan.

The results suggest that Americans are less confident than the Japanese about the quality of math and science education. Some 69 percent of Americans surveyed said the quality of U.S. instruction in those fields was "inadequate,'' while a plurality of Japanese respondents said they thought such coursework in their country's schools was "nurturing students' awareness of science.''

But 53 percent of the Japanese surveyed agreed that "Japan is very meager in training individualists and creative scientists.''

American respondents overwhelmingly agreed that their nation's high-school students should study more science and math. Some 69 percent of the Americans surveyed said students should take a science course each year, and 87 percent said students should study math each year.

The surveys also found that Americans are more optimistic than the Japanese about the benefits of science. For example, a majority of Americans said that automation would result in a net gain in jobs, while most Japanese said they thought it would lead to a loss of jobs.

But despite their favorable attitude toward science, Americans were less accepting than the Japanese of a basic tenet of a major field of scientific thought: evolution.

A narrow plurality of U.S. respondents--47 percent--said they did not believe that humans had developed from an earlier species of animals. By contrast, 75 percent of Japanese respondents said they believed such evolution had occurred.

Copies of the report (NSB 87-1) can be ordered from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. Request stock number 038-000-00578-2.

Vol. 07, Issue 32

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