Archive for June, 2010

2010 Science FCAT and beyond

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

The annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results are finally released. These are exams that students across the state in specific grade levels must take in core subjects. These scores can influence students’ promotion to the next grade, and dictate what the student can or cannot take the next school year, such as remedial courses instead of electives. The scores also play a significant role in each school’s letter grades they receive from the state every year. Chronically low performing schools can face ugly sanctions.

Of special interest to us at Florida Citizens for Science are, of course, the science FCAT results. The science FCAT is given to students in grades 5, 8 and 11 every year. It’s different than the other core subjects’ tests in that whereas it counts towards schools’ grades, it doesn’t have any effect on the students’ futures. A failing grade on the science FCAT typically means nothing to the student, but still has value to the school administration. Another odd aspect of the science test is that its content can cover a wide range of science topics, some of which students may have taken years ago and have forgotten by the time the test rolls around. How much from a 9th grade Earth/space course will a student remember for an 11th grade exam? A new law passed during the state legislature’s 2010 session will change some of these quirks, but I’ll get to that later. Right now let’s take a look at the latest scores.

FCAT results are broken down into five levels. Those students whose scores place them in levels one or two haven’t fully learned the required material and struggled with even the basic material. Level three is middle of the road with students having general success with the material, but not doing well on the more challenging questions. Levels four and five are where kids who really know their stuff fall.

The first result we’ll look at in this year’s scores is the percentage of students who got a Level three or above. This year is little different than years past, unfortunately. All three grade levels – 5, 8 and 11 – couldn’t muster even half of the students to at least a Level three. Grade 5 is the most promising, though, with 49 percent making it. That is up from 46 percent last year. That’s the lone bright spot in all of the scores, but even that still points to a sad state of affairs. A little more than half of 5th graders aren’t up to par on their science knowledge.

The 8th graders are improving, but at a slower annual pace than the 5th graders. They’re at 43 percent achieving Level three or higher, up from 41 percent the previous year. And then we get to the 11th graders, where the ugliest bad news resides. Only 38 percent were at Level three or above. That percentage has been essentially stagnant for the past four years! The figures each year are: 2007 – 37 percent; 2008 – 38 percent; 2009 – 37 percent. Keep in mind that this means a whopping 62 percent are not even at a basic level of science understanding!

It’s tough to say what’s happening to science in high school. Keep in mind the factors I outlined above – the scores don’t count against the students, and the students are tested on a wide range of material from the past few years. Tracking high school students’ overall science knowledge will be moot, though, in the next few years. There are changes in how they are going to be assessed in the works.

First of all, 5th and 8th graders will still be faced with annual science FCATs. A new version of the test, called FCAT 2.0 will be phased in with some field testing in 2011 and then full implementation in 2012. The new FCAT will be aligned to the new state science standards that were adopted in 2008.

There is only one more science FCAT in store for 11th graders. After 2011 the high school science FCAT will be eliminated, replaced with end of course exams. Or rather, one end of course exam in Biology. In accordance with a new law, high school students in future years will be required to attain three science credits to graduate: Biology I, chemistry or physics, and “an equally rigorous course”. However, Biology is the only class that will require an end of course exam for credit. There is the possibility that the other science courses will have mandatory end of course exams for credit, but don’t hold your breath. Also, as an explainer here: currently, some subjects may have end of course exams administered by the teacher, and the score for that figures into the final grade. But the end of course exam for biology will eventually be a test the students must pass to get credit for the class, regardless of the students’ other grades in that class.

Here’s the tentative plan for the various requirements to be phased in:
2010 – 2011 school year: last year of the 11th grade science FCAT.
2011 – 2012 school year: Students will start taking Biology end of course exams, but they will only count for 30% of the class grade.
2012 – 2013 school year: The Biology end of course exam must be passed to earn credit.
2013 – 2014 school year: Students entering high school need to plan on taking Biology, Chemistry or Physics, and an equally rigorous course in the coming years.
2014 -2015 school year: To get a standard diploma, students must have earned a Biology credit that included the end of course exam. The 30% percent of the class grade end of course exam will count for this year’s graduates.
2015 -2016 school year: To get a standard diploma, students must have earned a Biology credit that included the must-pass end of course exam.
2016 – 2017 school year: To get a standard diploma, students must have earned credits in Biology, Chemistry or Physics, and an equally rigorous course.

Keep in mind this schedule is tentative! It will be interesting to see how this all works out in the coming years.

Schools need chemistry

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Paul Cottle, who runs the informative blog Bridge to Tomorrow, has an article in the Orlando Sentinel today discussing the need for chemistry teachers. Florida needs them soon, but where will they come from?

Hundreds of new chemistry teachers must be recruited and educated. Most high-school students take chemistry in their sophomore or junior year, so the state’s high schools have a tight deadline for having these new chemistry teachers in place: August 2014.

Crawling out of the Woodwork

Monday, June 21st, 2010

It would seem that the anti science crowd has recently decided to crawl out of the woodwork to offer the world a few gems of blind ignorance. The Lakeland Ledger in particular, seems to provide a haven for the scientifically challenge. Once more today we have a letter to the editor entitled “Knowledge and Theory” which is so appallingly wrong it’s almost painful to read. I have responded to so much of this nonsense just lately my hands are getting tired. So please, will some one rebutt this drivel, just in case one poor student out there in Polk County thinks there might be some truth in these rantings? 

Anyone want to “stick it to science” again?

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Last year Florida Citizens for Science conducted a fun Stick Science contest. What led up to that contest was that I happened to have a stack of goodies I had collected over time that would make great prizes. So, I came up with the Stick Science cartoon contest as a way to distribute those cool items.

Right now I have a couple of items that might make OK prizes, but nothing like last year. So, that’s where you folks come in. If you want to get another Stick Science contest rolling, then I need some help with hunting down cool prizes and seeing if we can rope in a few “celebrity” judges. I’ll go ahead and start a little networking on my own to see what can be done, but my time tends to be limited. If any of you folks out there have contacts that would be useful in this endeavor, please let me know.

Last year’s contest took a while to gather steam, but by the time it was over we had attracted a surprisingly decent amount of attention. The Scientist magazine wrote about it, which I thought was cool. And I had a handful of people tell me that they had wanted to make an entry, but didn’t get it submitted in time. I think this is an idea that can grow and go far. I just need some help getting things going. Contact me if you have any contacts or any ideas. Thanks.

And keep an eye on Pasco

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

I’ve been given some tips lately about various school board candidates (such as Terry Kemple in Hillsborough) who aren’t exactly friends to science education. As I round up information on candidates to watch, I’ll post updates for y’all. My latest update for you comes from Pasco County. Candidate John Tracy, president of the Faith and Family Values Republican Club of Pasco County, was the subject of a past newspaper article that includes this nugget:

Although he does not have a specific agenda to speak about yet, Tracy said voters could expect him to consider all issues from his world view — that of a Baptist pastor who believes in the Bible. He supports offering alternatives to teaching evolution in science, for instance, and he contends that the role of religion in U.S. history must be presented accurately.

Keep an eye on Hillsborough

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Sure, we may have missed out on a great show in Pinellas County when a potential candidate who had serious problems with basic science understanding didn’t qualify in time to officially run. But another opportunity has presented itself in Hillsborough County. Terry Kemple is running for a seat on the school board there. Don’t remember Kemple? Let me jog your memory.

Baptist Press story: Proposed science standards debated in Fla.

Terry Kemple, president of the Tampa Bay Christian public policy group Community Issues Council, said leaving the standards unchanged regarding the origin of species would be better for teaching children how to think.

“The issue really goes to the basic question of whether our schools are places of learning or indoctrination …,” Kemple said. The proposed standards, she [sic] noted, come from people who have a set of beliefs and want children’s education to be based on those beliefs, he said.

“My objection to their proposal is that, at its core, the suggested science standard relative to evolution is a set of beliefs unproven. They believe that millions of years ago there was nothing and then suddenly there was something. They have no proof. It’s not replicable. It’s clearly a belief,” Kemple said. “You can give it a name and call it evolution, but it is nonetheless a set of beliefs.”

Kemple noted that a set of beliefs is typically considered a religion or non-religion. A large number of educated people believe evolution is not correct, he noted, and thus, as a set of beliefs, it should not be taught without stating its shortcomings.

Opinion article written by Kemple: What’s The Fuss About Evolution?

Macroevolution is entirely unproven. It hypothesizes that our original “ancestor” went through a series of gradual changes that led to it becoming a new type of organism. It further hypothesizes that through thousands of iterations of this process, you and I are here today. There is no fossil evidence of this happening nor has it ever been replicated in the laboratory.

The sole purpose of the Academic Freedom Act that Storms introduced is to protect teachers and students from persecution if their investigation of evolution leads them to conclusions that differ with the “party line” as it’s stated in the standards.

Yet, those who are using the authority of the Florida Department of Education to impose the religion of evolution are railing against Storms and claiming she is using her position to introduce religious teaching into the classroom when that’s exactly what they are doing!

Press release issued by Kemple: State Legislature to take up “Academic Freedom Act”

“The evolution ‘sacred cow’ must be submitted to scrutiny in American education,” said Terry Kemple. “Anyone in academia who strays from the ‘doctrine’ of marching lock step in support of the theory of evolution risks persecution and blackballing in their career.”

Members of both chambers of the Florida Legislature have filed a bill that will allow teachers “to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins” without fear of persecution. The bill will also protect “students from being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution.”

“Finally teachers and students will have the opportunity to cover all the information regarding the theory of evolution,” Kemple continued. “Until now a teacher who differentiated between micro evolution (observed changes over time within a species like a bacterium becoming resistant to antibiotics) and macro evolution (Darwin’s unproven theory that all varieties of animal life came from a one celled common ancestor) did so at the risk of his or her employment.”

Kemple, President of Community Issues Council, worked closely with the Senate sponsor to get the bill filed in the Florida Senate. The Senate language is being picked up by the House sponsor. Other pro-family groups around the state have joined in and there are already co-sponsors in both the House and the Senate and the bill enjoys the favor of legislative leadership.

So, do you remember him now? I thought you would. His campaign website is pretty tame right now, avoiding all mention of any divisive issues from his past. His record is readily available, though, with a quick search of the Internet. It looks like someone has already taken the initiative to create a parody campaign website for Kemple.

Despite having views completely at odds with reality, don’t be fooled. Some folks in Hillsborough County have told me he has quite a bit of support, and can raise tons of money in no time. This is definitely a race worth watching.

Finished before it even began

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The Tea-Party-recruited lady who wanted to run for a Pinellas County School Board seat on an anti-evolution platform (previous post) didn’t qualify in time. Too bad, Judith Bruinius, we hardly got to know ya. It could have been fun.

School Board candidate: evolution is “junk science”

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The St. Petersburg Times education blog The Gradebook has a post up about a candidate for the Pinellas County school board. Judith Bruinius believes that schools are falling apart due to “”rampant immorality among the teachers and the students.” Her solutions are to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms and eliminate the teaching of evolution.

“We’ve got children raping other children. We’ve got children killing other children,” she said. “To me, the whole system has lost its moral compass and this is why we’re having this much trouble.”

She said she is a creationist and objects to the teaching of evolution as more than a theory. “This is a way of indoctrinating our children into really a humanistic religion,” she said.

She was apparently recruited by her local Tea Party to run. Are there any of you folks out there in Pinellas who can give us insight into what her chances are?