Science Illiteracy in Local Schools Decried
Crawford, Amy, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
When West Allegheny school officials saw how their high school students scored on the statewide science test in 2008, they weren't pleased. Only 32 percent of the 11th grade passed.
"We knew that we needed to look at our curriculum," said Principal Daniel Smith.
School officials revised science courses, rewriting them to adhere more closely to the state's standards, or topics students are supposed to learn. Science teachers worked to make classroom assessments resemble the state tests, to familiarize students with questions they might see.
This year, students' scores were up: more than 51 percent made the grade.
"We were pleasantly surprised," Smith said.
West Allegheny's experience is unusual, however. Although test scores in reading and math are improving, achievement in science remains low at most area high schools. Only a few high schools raised scores significantly, and some lost ground.
Students in fourth, eighth and 11th grades take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment science test. Though it does not count toward a school's annual report card, it measures how well schools teach science facts and skills state officials want children to learn.
In Allegheny, Fayette and Westmoreland counties, the average pass rate, or students scoring in "advanced" and "proficient" ranges, was 59 percent for middle schools and 84 percent for elementary schools. Among high schools, the average was just 37 percent.
The high school scores reflect a nationwide trend, and educators, scientists and businesspeople are decrying what many view as a deficit in American science education. Last month, the National Academies of Science and Engineering and National Institute of Medicine released a report saying America's ability to compete in a global marketplace will suffer unless schools improve science education.
According to the report, the United States ranks 48th worldwide for elementary and secondary math and science education. …