In an EdWeek story published this morning, I take a closer look at how some of the state winners in the federal Race to the Top competition are planning to improve STEM education. This story picks up on the thread from a blog post I wrote a couple of weeks back, but draws on interviews with state leaders and other experts.
One example that unfortunately ended up on the cutting-room floor was Georgia. But I wanted to take a moment here to highlight an element of that state’s application that caught my eye. It involves an effort that doesn’t require any Race to the Top money. Instead, it’s a policy change related to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. (Also, here’s a press release from Georgia announcing that the state won a Race to the Top grant.)
According to Georgia’s application, the state plans to require that all public elementary and middle schools make student achievement in science one of their indicators for making AYP—or adequate yearly progress—under the federal law. This is a big deal, because, as many readers probably already know, if a school does not make AYP for two or more consecutive years, a series of escalating consequences kick in.
Erin L. Hames, the chief of staff for the Georgia education department, told me that the state’s elementary and middle schools have three main criteria by which AYP is assessed. The first is state assessments in reading and mathematics. The second is ensuring that 95 percent of students in each subgroup participate in the state testing mandated. But for the last one, the state until now has allowed districts some flexibility (though in high school, they must use graduation rates). Most districts, Hames said, select student attendance.
But starting next school year, Georgia districts will be required to use student performance on science exams.
The hope, she said, is that the change will strengthen science instruction in the early grades.
Georgia’s Race to the Top application explains the change this way:
“The rationale for this strategy is two-fold: First, student interest in and preparation for science in high school must begin at the elementary level. Unfortunately, teachers and principals often de-emphasize science, partly because of the strong focus on reading and mathematics, where distinct accountability consequences are in place, and partly because many elementary and middle school teachers lack strong content knowledge in the sciences. Second, since what is measured matters, requiring science as a second AYP indicator will put an instructional focus on teaching and learning the subject.”
The application emphasizes, however, that it’s not simply issuing a new requirement for science. This step will be accompanied by professional development for teachers and other related efforts.
Hames said the change came as a result of the recommendation of a state-organized work group that included local superintendents and other school employees.
She said she’s not aware of any other state with a similar mandate.
If any reader knows of another state that requires science performance to count toward AYP, let us know by posting a comment.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.