Magazine article Techniques

National Science Board Says U.S. Lead in STEM Slipping

Magazine article Techniques

National Science Board Says U.S. Lead in STEM Slipping

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH THE UNITED STATES CONTINUES TO LEAD THE WORLD IN MOST BROAD AREAS of science and technology, its lead is slipping, according to data in a new report released in January by the: National Science Board (NSB). The statutorily mandated report, Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) is prepared biennially and delivered to the president and Congress. Kei Koizumi, assistant director for federal research and development in the president's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), noted that there are concerns regarding the U.S. domination in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and it will require strong leadership on the national level to make the necessary gains.

''The data begin to tell a worrisome story," Koizumi said, noting that U.S. dominance has "eroded significantly."

Teenagers did not fare well against many of their international contemporaries on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA: 2006) test. U.S. 15-year-olds scored below most selected nations in 2006, and U.S. standing among selected nations dropped below its 2000 rank in both mathematics and science. (PISA tests students' ability to apply the information that they have learned, i.e., students' ability to explain answers in math or scientific terms, use logical reasoning and synthesize information.)

Among the PISA findings:

* Among 19 nations with data available for both years, the United Slates scored below seven nations in math in 2000 and below 15 nations in 2006.

* The average math score of U.S. students in 2006 was lower than scores in 18 comparison nations out of 24, and higher than those in four other countries--three of them in developing economies. In addition, the U.S. 90th percentile score in math was similarly low compared to scores in other nations.

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* The number of countries scoring higher than the United States on the PISA science assessment rose from six to 12 between 2000 and 2006.

Younger Students' Scores Mixed

Younger students' scores have improved somewhat, according to one recent international assessment--the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS: 2007). The scores of U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders were higher than in 1995 in math; but not in science.

"Science results were mixed: the average 2007 science scores of U.S. fourth-arid eighth-graders had not changed measurably from the 1995 average scores. However, the U.S. position among selected countries declined in fourth grade (two more nations outscored the United Slates and four fewer had lower scores in 2007) and increased slightly in the eighth grade (where two fewer scored above and two more scored below the United States)," according to SEI.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress mathematics test, meanwhile, scores increased among younger students through 2008, continuing a steady rise since 1990.

A Call to Action

The board noted upon SEI's release that it hoped the information contained in it would help steer President Obama and policymakers in the right direction regarding the national priorities that should be pursued in STEM education. Last November, President Obama launched a nationwide campaign to drive STEM education. …

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