Archive for January, 2007

Science FCAT … all for nothing?

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

This story about the science FCAT is a mixed bag. It’s sad kids have to be essentially bribed in order to give schools any hope of not nosediving in scores.

Ipods, prom tickets, limo rides — the prizes offered at American one morning last week are meant to motivate 11th-graders into taking and doing well on the upcoming FCAT science exam. While the scores won’t affect their state graduation requirements, they will count, for the first time, toward school grades.

Now some South Florida educators find themselves trying to entice 16-year-olds — even if it borders on a bit of bribery. At Michael Krop Senior High, students who score Level 3 or higher on the the science FCAT will get to sport shorts to class.

‘You are putting a certain amount of power in the hands of kids,” said Miami-Dade district science supervisor Cyd Heyliger-Browne. “But since they’re putting them in the driver’s seat, we’re telling them to drive us forward.”

”There are a lot of kids who don’t care because they know it doesn’t matter,” said Clifton Forbes, a junior at American.

That attitude is what concerns officials most.

”Between 94 and 96 percent of juniors have to show up and take the test or their school will be penalized,” Heyliger-Browne said. When not enough students at a school take the test, the school receives an Incomplete from the state rather than a grade, no matter how well students score.

Experts say science’s growing influence in standardized testing stems from an increased emphasis on math. But they are skeptical of the format being used to measure science comprehension at the high school level. They much prefer final exams in specific subjects.

”Generally, with an 11th-grade comprehensive test such as the FCAT, the state’s standards are not terribly high,” said Lynn Cornett, a senior vice president of educational policies for the Southern Regional Educational Board. “You end up not teaching to a high level of standards on that test.”

Cornett said that at the middle school level, science courses are already too broad and shallow, which reflects in testing that fails to cover subject matter in depth.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot of negative stuff packed into one story. The test is high stakes for the schools, but not so much for the kids. Kids are being pretty much bribed. The kids have the control rather than the schools. This style of testing is possibly not the best for a subject like science. Science in schools is not covered well as a result.

Whew! And this stuff is supposed to help kids? How?

Backyard Bird Count

Friday, January 26th, 2007

“People of all ages, and of all levels of experience, are invited to join the Great Backyard Bird Count which spans all of the United States and Canada Feb. 16 to 19. Participants can take part wherever they are. They simply count the highest number of each species they see during an outing or a sitting, and enter their tally on the Great Backyard Bird Count Web site at This year marks the tenth anniversary of the GBBC, and Cornell and Audubon are challenging people everywhere to participate in greater numbers than ever before.”

When a science project can’t be on campus

Friday, January 26th, 2007

This is a funny twist to the annual school science projects. A student develops a cool use for a still, but can’t bring it on his school campus until specific special permission is granted.

Tyler Rowland, a student at the Maclay School, was a winner in Maclay’s recent science fair.

His project was a “still” that converts kudzu to ethanol. Headmaster Bill Jablon had to file application forms to obtain permits that would allow a still on the school campus.

FSU working on improving science education

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Florida State University chemistry professor and Nobel laureate Harold Kroto is apparently working on some ideas to improve science education. If I’m reading the story correctly, he’s assembling various resources into one program using modern technology. It looks like accessibility to all this information through one source is the key and the aim is to serve a global audience. It’s not clear to me what makes this “revolution” unique among other similar programs, though.

I especially like this quote:

“Of course, science must be used wisely, and the only way to ensure that is by good education. Ignorance allied with irrationality will surely be disastrous.  And if we don’t (do this), we’re going to have a problem, because the issue that we face today is sustainability,” Kroto said.

Middle schools; Curriculum standards

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

I was wondering when the New York Times would finally add to their series about middle schools. (Post about first story is here.) A second story finally appeared today and focuses on whether middle schools should be eliminated. (Here’s a link to a Florida paper running the story if you have problems with the NYT link.) If so, then should it be K-8 or 6-12 or something else?

And going with the middle school theme here in Florida, failing even one core subject in middle school could stop a student from advancing to high school unless the class is made up.

Eager to make sure middle-schoolers are prepared for high school, state officials have made it tougher for students to advance to ninth grade. Starting with this year’s sixth-graders, any youngsters who fail even one “core” course must retake the class or they will not be promoted to high school.

Core courses include math, science, English and social studies.

Finally, this editorial in the Tampa Tribune laments the state’s graduation rate and points out one area that we here at Florida Citizens for Science are actually actively working on:

Much work also needs to be done on refining Florida’s curriculum standards, particularly in middle school and high school, which direct teachers on what to teach and sets the baseline for what students should know.

The Koret Task Force, which recently reviewed the progress of Florida’s school reform efforts, zeroed in on curriculum as the weak link in high schools.

New science standards website up

Friday, January 19th, 2007

A new website is up for a Florida Science Education Standards Committee.

Science on the FCAT, good or bad?

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Here’s an interesting look at whether having a science FCAT is good or bad in the long run.

Bruce Alberts raised those concerns during his time as president of the National Academy of Sciences, an organization dedicated to “furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare.”

In speeches at the academy’s annual meetings, he repeatedly talked about standardized testing, always looking ahead to what would happen in 2007.

“The No Child Left Behind Act requires that high-stakes science assessments be implemented in each of the 50 states,” he said at the 2003 meeting. “Unfortunately, it is much easier and less expensive to test for science words than for science understanding and abilities. The wrong kinds of tests will force the trivialization of science education and drive most students, including many potential scientists, away from science.”

With that in mind, I looked at some sample FCAT science questions. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a science class. But for what it’s worth, the questions seemed surprisingly hard. Most of them weren’t multiple choice. Many required much more than memorization. All good signs.

I asked Ruth Senftleber, science supervisor for Duval County public schools, my question of the day: Is science on the FCAT good for science?

“I believe it is,” she said.

Dr. Dino to be sentenced

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Kent Hovind — “Dr. Dino” — is due to be sentenced today. He could get up to 288 years according to the article.