It is widely acknowledged that today's students will need to compete in a global economy that requires proficiency in science and technology. In an attempt to ensure that all Massachusetts students reach a minimal level of proficiency in these subjects, the class of 2010 high school students will have to earn a passing score on one MCAS science exam (biology, chemistry, physics, or technology/engineering) in order to receive a diploma. Results of national assessments show that while Massachusetts students score better in science than their peers in other states, there are disturbing gaps in the performance of certain sub-groups of students -- black and Hispanic students, students from low-income homes, English language learners -- who fail to meet proficiency standards at satisfactory rates. Indeed for all students, undeniable gaps exist in students' achievement, knowledge, expectations and comprehension of the needs of the future economy. Given that the state is now holding all students accountable for their performance in science, it is necessary to examine whether or not all students are receiving equitable opportunities to learn and succeed in science. This report seeks to identify concretely what top-performing schools do to support science instruction and to draw out considerations for policymakers at the district and state levels.
Themes across the Schools
The following is a description of greater opportunities to learn science that are present in top-performing schools, compared to low-performing schools:
- More science teachers.
- Well-prepared teachers.
- More teacher preparation time.
- Financial resources.
- Material resources.
- Options for placement in science courses.
- Real-world application.
- Enrichment opportunities in science.
- Science related partnerships with universities.
- Peer tutoring.
For school and district leaders:
- Encourage and support science-related professional development.
- Provide incentives for highly qualified science teachers to teach in your schools.
- Structure the school day to enable more teacher preparation time.
- Develop partnerships with neighboring universities.
- Institute peer tutoring programs.
- Institute formal remediation and academic support programs for students struggling in science.
- Look outside the school for people to lead extracurricular activities.
- Make well-equipped science classrooms a priority.
For state policymakers:
Providing additional resources and ensuring that all high school students in Massachusetts have opportunities to learn science and to achieve at high levels will require coordinated efforts by both state legislators and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The following are recommendations for consideration by both state legislators and the Department.
- Provide incentives for highly qualified science teachers to teach in low-performing schools.
- Provide incentives for science professionals to enter the teaching profession.
- Continue to support expanded learning time initiatives.
- Support enrichment opportunities for low-performing schools.
- Broaden current state-level science initiatives to encompass all grades from kindergarten through higher education.
- Provide a supplementary materials budget to under-resourced schools.
- Provide support for formal remediation and academic support programs for students struggling in science.