Poor Performance on State Science Tests

stand-up-for-science-180There are three science exams that all public school students in Florida must take: the statewide science assessments in grades 5 and 8 and the high school biology end of course exam. Students have to score a level three or higher on a five point scale to pass. The 5th and 8th grade tests cover a variety of science topics, such as the nature of science, earth/space science, physical science and life science. The biology test is the only mandatory statewide science assessment given in high school.

Every year the Florida Department of Education releases the results of those assessments. See our blog posts about each year’s results: Florida Science Tests: A move in the right direction but I still have questions / Science assessment scores “remained consistent”? Seriously? / DOE: Just fudge the results; no one cares about science anyway / The conversation about science has started but will it continue? / Statewide science scores … anyone out there actually care? / and the list goes on and on and on and on …

In June 2009 I wrote a column published in the Gainesville Sun with the pointed headline: Is science education important to Florida?

Is science education important to Florida? That is a relevant question to ask after analyzing the 2009 science FCAT results released last week.

There were minimal gains of one or two percent in the lower grades, but a disappointing 63 percent of 11th graders failed, scoring below a level three. There are bright spots in a few counties, but overall we are either mired in the tar pit of an inadequate testing system for science, or our students have a shockingly poor understanding of basic science concepts. Quite likely, both explanations are equally valid.

There have been a few changes in the testing system since then. The FCAT has been re-branded as the Statewide Science Assessment. The 11th grade FCAT was eliminated, replaced with the Biology End of Course exam. But some things remain the same. Students are still doing poorly. I wrote a column that was published in June 2017 in the Orlando Sentinel. I would have loved to give it the same headline as the 2009 piece, but I have no control over what the editors decide. The online version is Spur a love for science that spans a lifetime. The print version is different: Give science education attention it deserves for productive future. Nonetheless, my message was essentially the same as several years ago.

Unfortunately, I worry that Florida’s decision makers and leaders are not up to the task of preparing our students for the science-infused future they face. The Florida Department of Education recently released the results of several standardized exams our students took this past year. The FDOE’s press release highlighted praiseworthy improvements in English Language Arts and mathematics assessments.

But what about science? Here’s what the press release had to say: “Science performance remained consistent.” That’s it.

Unlike the other tested subjects, there wasn’t anything positive to say about the science assessments. Consistent is a horrible word to use in association with the results. Students in fifth and eighth grades took tests the FDOE calls Statewide Science Assessments. Not once in the past six years have more than half of all eighth-grade test takers passed the exam.

To make that loud and clear: More than half the students taking that exam failed every year since at least 2012. This year’s results showed that 52 percent failed. In fifth grade, 49 percent failed the exam, which is the same as the previous year. That’s stagnant, not consistent.

I posted links to the column on social media and I’ve had responses asking, “What can I do about this?” My answer is simple: be loud. My newspaper columns are obviously not loud enough. I’m just one person spitting in the wind. Remember that awesome March for Science? (See my blog post Marching for Science across Florida.) If all those marchers — and I mean every single one — would copy both of my columns and send them (email, postal mail, hand deliver) to decision makers (elected officials, appointed officials) with an attached note bold and highlighted “What are YOU going to do about this?” then maybe they would realize something is wrong.

Be loud.

Look up the results for your local schools. If the results are good — fortunately, there are some really good ones out there — then take the time and effort to let your school board members, superintendent, principals and teachers know. Give them the praise they deserve. But if your local schools didn’t perform so hot, then be loud. Ask them what’s going on and demand an answer. Don’t let them ignore you.

Be loud.

Spread the word. There were a lot of March for Science participants. Hopefully, they’ll get this message and they’ll all speak up. But there are plenty of other folks out there who value science education but aren’t aware of Florida’s plight. Tell them. Prod them into action. No one is going to take us seriously if we’re not loud. That means we need a lot of people willing to be vocal. Find those people and recruit them.

Be loud.

Did you know that the Florida Department of Education had planned on updating our state science standards in 2016? (See our old post about this: Science Standards revision schedule and you can view the standards here.) The process was even started in 2015 when the FDOE recruited people to be on the standards review committee. We know that because some of our members and associates were asked to participate. But then the process was abruptly halted and abandoned a few months after it started. There is no official explanation for why. (We have unconfirmed information that it was because politicians didn’t want evolution and climate change in the news during election season.) It’s now 2018 and the process hasn’t restarted. Florida Citizens for Science president Jonathan Smith hounded the FDOE about this and finally got a response: the standards will not be revised in the next two years at least and perhaps longer.

I think you know what to do now.

Be loud.