Improving science achievement is focus of District 518 effortWorthington students score below state average on standardized test
WORTHINGTON — According to a report released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) last month, more than half of Minnesota’s fourth- and eighth-grade students lack proficiency in science. Worthington District 518 students apparently have some learning to do, too.
WORTHINGTON — According to a report released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) last month, more than half of Minnesota’s fourth- and eighth-grade students lack proficiency in science.
Worthington District 518 students apparently have some learning to do, too.
The results were derived from the NAEP assessments, which were given January through March 2009. Compared to other states, Minnesota ranked relatively high in their performance. Nevertheless, the state barely made it into the top one-third of U.S. states in the 2009 NAEP science assessments.
“The NAEP science scores are one more objective measure showing that far from being an ‘education leader, Minnesota — in reality — is losing ground,” said Dr. Brenda Cassellius in a statement released by the Minnesota Department of Education. Cassellius was recently appointed Commissioner of Education by Gov. Mark Dayton.
The assessment is administered once a year and covers physical science, life science and earth and space sciences. Schools across the U.S. are randomly selected to take the assessment. Once selected a random sample of students within fourth and eighth grade are selected to take the test.
Unlike other exams covering reading and math, there are no sanctions for schools performing below proficiency.
Only 43 percent of Minnesota’s fourth-graders scored proficient. Their score rates were as follows: White students, 51 percent; Black students, 12 percent; Hispanic students, 12 percent; Asian students, 31 percent; American Indian students, 12 percent.
Minnesota’s eighth-graders only saw 40 percent of students score a proficient score. Their score rates were as follows: White students, 46 percent, Black students, 11 percent; Hispanic students, 14 percent; Asian students, 23 percent; American Indian students 14 percent.
District 518 was one of the schools randomly selected to take the NAEP assessment. However, District 518 Coordinator of Teaching and Learning Tammy Timko, noted that an analysis of the district’s performance on NAEP was not possible because of the because of random sampling of the test.
Instead, Timko suggested that the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) results, which bare a similarity to the NAEP results, be examined. Forty-nine percent of Minnesota students passed the science MCAs; only 28 percent of District 518 students passed.
“We know we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Timko. “Just like on the NAEP, the MCAs also should a very large achievement gap in science. The nation is showing it, the state is showing it and our district is showing that gap.”
The district is currently conducting various initiatives in an effort to promote science across all grades. Throughout the past three years, curriculum committees with a lead teacher have been established. During the past two summers, science teachers have written new and additional curriculum to ensure that students are being introduced to science standards from the elementary through high school years.
“This has allowed the kindergarten through 12th-grade science teachers time to discuss placement of Minnesota science standards and the content presented at each grade level,” explained Kathy Craun, a middle school science teacher who is part of a science teacher partnership with other science teachers and the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative.
“We have identified what we are teaching well and what areas need additional support,” Craun added. “School year science teachers are focusing on implementation of curriculum and developing additional hands-on activities.”
The district’s Science Curriculum chair, Jodi Hansen, is involved with additional initiatives to promote science across all age groups. She presents an annual summer enrichment program, Camp Invention, each June to students in first through sixth grade.
“I hope we can get students to be more critical thinkers, problem solvers and learn to think through ways to solve everyday problems using the content we are learning about,” said Hansen.
Students across the nation are undoubtedly struggling with the subject of science, yet Hansen hopes their endeavors will help promote a better understanding of this subject at an earlier age.
“Our committee has been trying to get a lot more science incorporated in the younger grades,” explained Hansen. “Students in fifth grade are getting much more science time now that they are at the middle school. This is such a critical time to build a more consistent focus on this subject, and I know a lot of our teachers are trying to incorporate more science throughout the school day.”
“Compared to other states, Minnesota does very well in science,” Hansen added. “This is just one test. And while I don’t think we’re doing a horrible job, there is always room for improvement. We need to take a look at multiple measures to see how our kids are doing.”
While Minnesota’s science proficiency in fourth and eighth grade is comparatively superior to states across the nation, there is still much more work to be done, according to Cassellius.
“If there was ever a time for Minnesotans to step up and fuel that sense of urgency, that time is now” said Cassellius. “Our state sustained economic success and our global competitive edge will come from our ability to create a highly skilled and educated workforce — a workforce that starts in our schools by creating a culture where students come first and by making sure all of our children are learning to their full potential.”