Leaving No Child Behind In Science Education
With the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 several changes have been implemented that require states, colleges of education, school districts and others to rethink ways to improve teacher certification. One aspect of this legislation is that each public school must have a “highly qualified” teacher in the classroom — one that has, among other requirements, obtained full certification and passed the state teacher licensing exam. The understanding of this definition is paramount at the middle and high school levels where teaching academic subjects become more prevalent.
With a greater emphasis on accountability, NCLB challenges educators to re-examine how individual students are performing in their subject areas. Therefore, a closer look at the impact of teacher instructional practices in science is needed. More importantly, having highly qualified science teachers in every class is the goal. NCLB has mandated that “a state plan should ensure that all public elementary and secondary school teachers in the state who teach core academic subjects (i.e. science) are highly qualified not later than the end of the 2005-2006 school year.”
The lack of highly qualified science teachers is an issue in general, but unfortunately, for some populations the problem is even worse. For instance, large urban schools are plagued with high numbers of unqualified and poorly prepared teachers. It is not uncommon to place teachers that lack effective instructional practices, as well as a degree in the area in which they teach, in schools with predominantly minority and high-poverty students. Yet, inner-city schools need the most effective teachers and resources if the problem of low student achievement in science among minorities is to be alleviated.
Science, as its own culture, has been for the elite and used as a portal for advanced study, as well as mental training for increasing processing skills and abstract levels of thinking. A lack of exposure to any one of these skills may impede future success in science for any student, particularly minority students. The issue of minority performance in science is more paramount now because of the federal requirement that all states release science results in 2007-2008 for all students.
The “Science Highlights 2000” published by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 2000) provides a current picture of student performance in science by racial/ethnic subgroups. According to this report, science performance at the national level is disaggregated into three content areas: earth science, life science and physical science for grades 4, 8 and 12 and based on three ability levels: low, middle and high performance. Upon examination of the most recent high school NAEP data, all percentile scores declined for each ability level, with the middle or 50th percentile decreasing significantly. Accordingly, African American high school students performed the lowest in each science area.
Having highly qualified teachers in the science classroom ensures that all students will have access to meaningful experiences, ultimately increasing students’ abilities. National organizations such as American Association for the Advancement of Science have written documents that support this thinking of “science for all students” with the emphasis on “all.” In order for students to achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2013-2014, which NCLB requires, there needs to be a closer look at teacher qualification and its effect on student achievement. In addition, the science community must help states produce more highly qualified teachers and subsequently place them in the communities that need them most so that no child is left behind.
— Dr. Scott Jackson Dantley is an associate professor of chemistry and science education at Bowie State University.
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