Tuesday, December 18, 2012

TIMMS, Effort and Shovel-Ready Science

In my first look at the 2011 TIMMS and PIRLS results, I asserted that we've put much more effort into reading -- especially 4th grade reading -- than math and science, despite all the hand-wringing about STEM and STEAM. Among all the survey data and other analysis in the TIMMS and PIRLS reports, I did notice one table that backs me up.

For each test, principals were polled on the question of how much resource shortages affected instruction in the relevant subject area. In 4th grade reading, we have the fewest principals reporting their schools are "not affected," at 45%. This is the lowest percentage of all participating countries in reading; our scale score in the subject is a very competitive 6th.

I looked at the same rankings in math and science and compared us to Korea in each.

In math we have 42% and 43% not affected by resources shortages in 4th and 8th grade, ranking #6 and #8, respectively. Our scores rank #11 and #9.

Korea has 22% and 15% fewer schools reporting affects of resource shortages in math in those grades. They rank in the top three for both resources and overall scores.

In science we have 34% and 39% reporting their schools are not affected by resource shortages, ranking us #6 and #10 for resources and #7 and #10 for scores.

In 4th grade science, Korea is #1 in both resources and scores; in 8th grade they are #3 in each. They have 29% fewer schools with resource shortages in science in 4th grade, 18% fewer in 8th.

Now, the first cherry I picked there worked out pretty neatly, I'm sure the overall correlation is considerably less tidy. My point isn't that this is the decisive point or spending X million dollars would vault us to the top of the rankings.

But, you can certainly look to this while pulling your hair out and fighting back tears about what could possibly be done to improve math and science education in America, when everything we're trying seems like a triple-bank shot with our eyes closed. It might work to write new standards, then new tests, then new VAM models, use them in new evaluation systems, which we then tie to teacher training programs, which we use to rank schools of education, and then maybe create an entirely new alternative system of ed schools, etc., etc., etc.

In the meantime, it certainly couldn't hurt to shell out a little cash to make sure math and science teachers have all the resources they need. Right now 2/3rds of elementary principals believe that science instruction in their schools is affected negatively by resource shortages.

Sure, some of it will end up going into gold-plated telescopes and short-toothed clam rakes, but of all the things we could be doing, it is the easiest and most "shovel-ready," and it seems to have helped in early reading.

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