NAEP science: Students can do experiments and get answers but can’t explain or justify their results

NAEP — known as the Nation’s Report Card — released results today of how American students fared on a new component of its science test that included hands-on, interactive experiments and virtual labs.

The new component was added to the 2009 science assessment. In one example, 12th graders were asked to determine a location for a new town based on an assessment of water quality flowing near that site. Students were asked to test water samples, determine levels of pollutants and then justify the decision where they would locate the new town using the data from the experiment they conducted.

Overall, students could conduct the experiments but were not as skilled in using their data to justify conclusions or writing reports. In one example cited in a webinar this morning on the results, 93 percent of fourth graders got the right answer in a science experiment, but only 32 percent could use the evidence from the experiment to justify their answer.

On the webinar announcing the results, National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner Jack Buckley said NAEP learned three key things through this new testing component:

•”Students are pretty good at doing some parts of science. The vast majority could use simulated laboratories to do the tests.”

•However, “students overall across all the task and across all grade levels were challenged by the parts of the test that required them to consider more than one variable at a time or if they had to make strategic decisions about how to collect the data.”

•”Students could select correct conclusions, but didn’t do so well when we asked them to explain their conclusions using the evidence from the data tables.”

Buckley noted that girls outscored boys in hands-on tasks, although boys outscored girls in the traditional NAEP science test for which results were released last month. There was no gender gap in the interactive computer segment.

Buckley said students loved these new assessment items, adding, “Kids said it was fun. It was hard to pry the computer and the tasks away from the kids. They really wanted to keep doing them. It was hard to get them to stop.”

Also taking part in the webinar was National Assessment Governing Board member Alan J. Friedman, a Georgia Tech graduate.

“With technology so close to the center of our society, we reward response to change and innovation,” he said. “So, testing to see how much students can memorize and how well they can follow instruction is no longer good enough. We need to know that students have the so-called higher order, 21st century skills…It is crucial to know if students know how an experiment or engineering task is designed, how data is analyzed and how to draw the best of multiple, possible solutions. These are all critical to innovation.”

(Official definition: National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Assessments are conducted periodically in mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history. )

Here is the official NAEP release:

Today’s results reveal that America’s fourth, eighth, and 12th graders can conduct science investigations using limited data sets, but many students lack the ability to explain results. The report shows that students were challenged by parts of investigations requiring more variables to manipulate, strategic decision-making in collecting data, and the explanation of why a certain result was the correct conclusion.

The new interactive computer tasks and updated hands-on tasks that involve more open-ended scenarios were administered as part of the 2009 science assessment by the National Center for Education Statistics to a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 students in each of grades 4, 8 and 12. The findings provide important insights for educators and policymakers who are looking for academic approaches that support careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, and encourage scientific inquiry.

“Science is fundamental to education because it is through scientific inquiry that students understand how to solve problems and ultimately how to learn,” said David Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. “So it’s tragic that our students are only grasping the basics and not doing the higher-level analysis and providing written explanations needed to succeed in higher education and compete in a global economy.”

The purpose of using hands-on and interactive computer tasks in testing is to determine whether students can solve problems as a scientist would and require students to perform actual science experiments. Interactive computer tasks require students to solve scientific problems in a computer-based environment, often by simulating a natural or laboratory setting.

“This innovative format allows for a richer analysis than a paper-and-pencil test,” Driscoll said. “Interactive computer tasks allow us to more deeply examine students’ abilities to solve problems because the tasks generate much more data.”

Only 53 percent of 12th graders reported that they were enrolled in a science course, and only 28 percent reported writing a report on a science project at least once a week. Ninety-two percent of fourth graders and 98 percent of eighth graders had teachers who reported doing hands-on science activities with students at least monthly. Thirty-nine percent of fourth graders and 57 percent of eighth graders had teachers who reported having at least a moderate emphasis on developing scientific writing skills.

The assessment measures science skills in a number of ways. Some questions use a model known as “predict-observe-explain” to examine students’ ability to combine their science knowledge with real-world investigative skills.

To correctly predict, students had to provide an accurate description of what might happen in a situation. For instance, when asked what kind of sunlight conditions were needed for a sun-loving plant and a shade-tolerant plant, 59 percent of fourth graders showed understanding that different plants have different sunlight needs.

Through the observe phase, students watched what happened as they conducted their experiments. Eighty percent of fourth graders made straightforward observations and tested how fertilizer and sunlight affected plant growth, but only 35 percent could perform a higher-level task that required them to make decisions about the best fertilizer levels for a sun-loving plant.

Students were then asked to explain what they had observed by interpreting data or drawing conclusions. Across all grade levels, a majority of students could observe, but far fewer could predict or explain. In fourth grade, fewer than 50 percent of students could explain why they selected a given fertilizer amount to support plant growth and use evidence to support their answer. At grade 8, 88 percent of students could correctly identify which liquid flowed at the same rate as water at a given temperature, while only 54 percent could support this answer with a written explanation of the evidence.

At twelfth grade, 64 percent of students could recommend the site for a new town based on information provided about water quality, while 75 percent of students could perform a straightforward investigation to test the water samples and accurately tabulate data. But only 11 percent were able to provide a valid recommendation and support their conclusions with details from the data.

More highlights from Science in Action include:

Overall achievement gaps

•There are gaps in average scores for all tasks between students from low-income families (those eligible for free and reduced-price lunch) and those from higher-income families.

•There are gaps by race/ethnicity. At all grade levels, white and Asian/Pacific Islander students outscored their black and Hispanic peers.

•At grades 4 and 12, Hispanic students scored higher than their black peers on interactive computer tasks and hands-on tasks.

•Female students outscored males on the hands-on tasks, but males scored higher on the traditional paper-and-pencil assessment. There was no gender gap for interactive computer tasks.

Grade 4

•Seventy-one percent of students could correctly select how volume changes when ice melts into water, but only 15 percent could support this conclusion with evidence from the investigation.

•Overall, students earned about 42 percent of the total points available from the questions they attempted on the interactive computer tasks.

•Overall, students earned about 47 percent of the total points available from the questions they attempted on the hands-on tasks.

Grade 8

•Eighty-four percent of eighth graders could correctly test how much water flowed to different soil samples during a simulated laboratory test.

•Overall, students earned about 41 percent of the total points available from the questions they attempted on the interactive computer tasks.

•Overall, students earned about 44 percent of the total points available from the questions they attempted on the hands-on tasks.

Grade 12

•Fifty-five percent of students could select the correct temperature changes occurring when a warm solid is placed in cool water, but only 27 percent were able to explain how heat was transferred from a warmer to a cooler substance.

•Overall, students earned about 27 percent of the total points available from the questions they attempted on the interactive computer tasks.

•Overall, students earned about 40 percent of the total points available from the questions they attempted on the hands-on tasks.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

64 comments Add your comment

Don't Tread

June 19th, 2012
12:31 pm

“Students could select correct conclusions, but didn’t do so well when we asked them to explain their conclusions using the evidence from the data tables.”

Not surprising, since their parents in the workforce can make [bad] decisions, but not be able to justify those decisions with supporting data…just “I said so, so do it or be fired”.


June 19th, 2012
12:41 pm

What do you expect when you don’t ever actually use data in the classroom? When you have, for years, been told there is ONE RIGHT BUBBLE to fill in, no thinking called for or allowed?

Once Again

June 19th, 2012
12:42 pm

Look up Trivium and Quadrivium. This used to be the foundation of all classical educations. Elements of them have always existed in education but the most important of the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric) Logic, has virtually no place in today’s education, and especially government run education. The reasons should be obvious. The teaching of logic empowers one to evaluate facts and make rational decisions based on them.

Just look at our world today. The media lies, the government does little more than lie, businesses/marketing people “persuade” with imagry and “facts”, and all of this serves the greater purpose of manipulating the populace in a certain direction. In the run-up to war, it serves to get the sheep in line for the inevitable bloodshed that they likely are not fundamentally in support of. On other political issues it serves to move the mindset in the direction the government or its masters wish. It serves to make everyone believe that imminent economic collapse requires the transfer of trillions in private wealth into the hands of criminal bankers that caused the economic problems we all face, etc.

If our society actually had critical thinkers who could use logic to arrive at conclusions, the entire house of cards would collapse and folks would actually support freedom, liberty, the rule of law, and all the other ideas that are anathema to our modern omnipotent states.

Nobody should be surprised by these results. They should be disgusted, enraged, and should be doing everything they can to make sure their kids get the kind of classical education they deserve, even if that means turning off the TV, quitting a job, homeschooling, whatever.

Rick in Grayson

June 19th, 2012
12:43 pm

The real problem we need answered is:

Why adults can not select a President of the United States and explain their selection using real reliable data that supports those decisions?

Part of the problem (not usually a problem found on this blog) is that the “press” does not gather and report reliable unbiased information on presidential candidates!


June 19th, 2012
12:45 pm

Result of years of multiple choice items and standardized testing?

When I went to school we had no multiple choice tests/quizzes…….especially in Science. Our responses had to be written and the questions looked like this:

1) Explain the…..___ process.
2) Compare and contrast……
3) Give 3 reasons for…..
4) What is the meaning of …..
5) Solve and explain……..

Rick in Grayson

June 19th, 2012
12:45 pm

I see that Once Again (above) has made similar arguments concerning the media.

This Nana knows...

June 19th, 2012
1:01 pm

But Once Again is right. The dumbing down of education has been deliberate. They don’t want a nation of critical thinkers. They want sheep that are easily led right off of the cliff.

another comment

June 19th, 2012
1:02 pm

I am an Engineer, I tried to help my child with Physics this year. But when all the homework is done an internet portal with A,B,C, D answers, so the teacher does not have to check the work. There is no requirement to work through the problems. To show your work. Show your hypothesis, and how you worked through the problem. I argued with the teacher, that there are multiple answers in Physics. Just like there are multiple ways to approach engineering problems. Often their are multiple solutions that are all correct. I would have two or three different enginers of the same discipline during my career, presenting mutliple solutions to a problem. All of their ways were correct. All of their different answers were correct. Without collaberative effort and out of the box solutions and answers we will not have inovation. We are doing our children such a disservice by fill in A,B,C,D.

Maybe it was why I would hire some 55, 60 year old plus engineers over some of the ones just out of school.

Dr. Monica Henson

June 19th, 2012
1:08 pm

This article is a good argument for integration of the language arts into the sciences in K-12 education, and especially in high school. There is no reason why a student can’t submit a science paper to the science teacher for a content grade, and to the English teacher for a communications grade.

I’m not arguing for the elimination of English literature essay assignments, but for an expansion of what “counts” as an English assignment.


June 19th, 2012
1:09 pm

I’ve always suspected that the nation’s reliance on multiple choice testing for students has destroyed our children’s ability to think critically. This report merely confirms that suspicion.

Entitlement Society

June 19th, 2012
1:16 pm

Folks, just pick the right school! Not ALL schools require children to pick A, B, C, or D as an answer. Find a school that offers project-based learning, critical thinking, intellectual discussion, debate, and observation. This is the type of homework that you as a parent need to do BEFORE your child ever sets foot into a school. If your child’s school doesn’t offer this type of learning environment, you are doing a disservice to your child. Demand that the school changes its ways, if not, change schools. It’s a very simple game. Here in Atlanta you have a multitude of choices.

Living in an outdated ed system

June 19th, 2012
1:19 pm

You couldn’t have articulated a better example of why our education system is broken. Students cannot simply memorize facts without context. If they don’t know how to apply what they have learned using skills such as critical thinking and drawing inferences, then it’s all for naught.

How tragic this is, and we need to fix this before we lose this generation to students in developing countries.


June 19th, 2012
1:25 pm

I’m not arguing for the elimination of English literature essay assignments, but for an expansion of what “counts” as an English assignment.

To give the recently departed Dr. Tricoli credit, Perimeter was doing interdisciplinary honors courses a few years ago, those were awesome. Professors would coordinate say History and Lit, so you could see historical context of something like the Canterbury Tales. This supplied a missing element to students after years of isolated fill in the blank crap and they loved being able to write a combined paper for both classes. It was a great system.


June 19th, 2012
1:47 pm

Please. The students can’t even read and don’t know basic math facts. Higher level thinking? How about Lower Level Vegetation. The future looks pretty weird.


June 19th, 2012
1:50 pm

Thinking ia a thought crime.

Atlanta Mom

June 19th, 2012
2:02 pm

I am becoming more and more convinced my children learned how to think and analyze at the dinner table. Discussion was encouraged, no topic was off limits, but rarely did an idea go unchallenged.


June 19th, 2012
2:09 pm

Dr. Monica Henson – check out Common Core to see how it brings literacy into the science class. I doubt we’ll really do that, but it is included in the framework.


June 19th, 2012
2:18 pm

Atlanta Mom – I’m with you. Who is a parent out there? The “overall achievement gap”spells out a lot in this article.
FACT: Multiple choice or not, given these problems with their respective challenges, for example, a Lakeside High student in North Dekalb will perform well and a Columbia High student in South Dekalb will perform much more poorly. What this article doesn’t define is the student base where these tests were done. Parental guidance has more to do with education than any other factor. I do not have a real high IQ but my parents were very strict when school work was involved. Raising a child correctly will assuredly yield much better probelm solvers, not only with higher level reasoning in school work, but in life overall. Good parents make good students and it takes a life time starting from age one to do this.

Dr. Monica Henson

June 19th, 2012
2:20 pm

College degrees can help one develop communication and critical thinking skills that might not be applied so much in an entry-level job, but can qualify one for promotion later on. Technical training and certification in the right fields can make a person employable right now.

My son is a case in point. He graduated in December with a university degree in history, which his father pronounced 100% unemployable. :) I had encouraged him to study something he loves, which he did. I also encouraged him to take Water Safety Instruction and lifeguarding as his college P.E. requirements. Throughout his college years, he worked in the summers as a lifeguard, spending his final college summer in the Adirondacks as a residential camp counselor and swimming instructor.

Upon graduation from college, he was able to secure a full-time position as an aquatics department worker in a metro Atlanta-area parks and recreation department. Right now he lifeguards and teaches swim classes as befits an entry-level worker on the bottom of the totem pole.

His college degree, however, positions him well for eventual promotion into a management position, and his swimming pool technician license almost guarantees that he’ll advance beyond lifeguarding pretty quickly once the summer rush is over. Of course, his employment is subject to the impact of the economy on the county budget, but so are a lot of jobs. He works part-time in retail at the Mall of Georgia to save up for his own apartment, so he’s learning the value of advancing into management and increasing his pay.

I am confident that eventually he’ll be able to apply his writing and speaking skills, as well as his critical analysis skills, in progressively more responsible positions. But in the meantime, he’s off my couch and gainfully employed, even if it’s not as a historian or junior professor.

Most of us don’t start out our careers in high-level positions, no matter what our academic preparation readied us for. I worked as a waitress at a restaurant in the then-new Gwinnett Place Mall to make ends meet until I got my first teaching position. The restaurant manager at the L & N Seafood Grill didn’t care a whole lot about my opinion of current events or whether I could write a killer essay. But I was able to pay the light bill.

Truth in Moderation

June 19th, 2012
2:20 pm

@ Once Again
I could not have said it better. My home schoolers have been taught using the principles of the Classical Method. For the past four years, they have had access to a home school friendly Science Center offering access to state of the art science labs and courses, with heavy hands-on experiences. This year, the 5th grader scored 93rd percentile on the ITBS and the 9th grader scored 98th percentile.

another point

June 19th, 2012
2:21 pm

Interestingly, there are schools where rigor is fround upon by leadership. When students complain that the work is too hard they tend to look at you as the problem. After all they do not want to hear from students and parents who become enraged at the possibility their little darlings will have to actually think and explain what they are doing.


June 19th, 2012
2:23 pm

Critical thinking and problem solving are the most skills people will need to make good decisions, to find jobs and to produce the results required of those jobs. Schools have abducated on this, just look at how many grads are unable to meet minimum job requirements, the result will be a lost generation with jobs going to skilled workers overseas. We already see this. Our educational system, including teacher groups & unions have failed to deliver in this area. So, parents need to step up to fill this void.Those that do will do their children a tremendous service, those that don’t will be in tomorrows news……..

another point

June 19th, 2012
2:23 pm

frowned- not fround


June 19th, 2012
2:24 pm

Overall, students could conduct the experiments but were not as skilled in using their data to justify conclusions or writing reports.


Right keep on drilling them for tests WITHOUT real Hands-on activities where they are at liberty to interact with their peers in an unpressurized climate!!!!!


June 19th, 2012
2:34 pm

I had a very unusual childhood — and I never got to go to college. I worked for my father throughout high school, after school and in the summer vacations– and really learned, welding, pipe fitting, sweating copper, power tool usage, machinery, and traveling.I could stick weld mild steel fairly well before I earned my drivers permit (with good grades). He died unexpectedly after I graduated high school and I was unable to attend college for lack of money. Now I am in the top 3% income earners in this country. I am a paid consultant to Ga Tech and have resigned their power plant heating system. Higher level thinking? I was taught everything I knew from my parents.


June 19th, 2012
2:44 pm

Monica, good for you and your family. Looks like you raised a smart son.You are really the one that made the real difference, not as much his school work.

Former History Teacher

June 19th, 2012
2:46 pm

Not a surprise as schools no longer require teaching of critical thinking skills at most grade levels. I started learning these skills at appropriate levels in elementary school—in the South. I recently looked at the math curriculum for elementary students and saw that fractions are being taught 1-2 years after the grade level I began learning them in school. It is no surprise that students are not taught the critical thinking skills that will help them succeed at university and in life. The curriculum has been dumbed down so as to make no student feel like a failure. It is time we began expecting all students to do the work and succeed at the appropriate grade level.

The hierarchy that runs educational programs at all levels throughout this country is broken and the result is that we have a lot of students with high self esteem but not the necessary life skills that will enable them to succeed and contribute.

Proud Teacher

June 19th, 2012
2:54 pm

This sad revelation will only become worse with the Common Core Standards. Students are to learn from the data they collect and evaluation. Common Core Standards classes are not to be led by teachers. Teachers are to only be the facilitator for the daily lesson. The classes will revolve around the students “discovery” of whatever objective is to be learned.


June 19th, 2012
2:56 pm

Good point Former History Teacher. What is also primarily broken is the American family.Bill Cosby said it best when he came to speak in a south Atlanta City School auditorium a few years ago and the demographic didn’t show up to hear him. Didn’t want to hear the truth. The famous Bill Cosby to his own.

Ron F.

June 19th, 2012
3:14 pm

What we see in these numbers is partly the result of the push over the last thirty years to have kids take more math and science courses. We were so panicked because Japan was outscoring us that we thought the answer was more and more material to learn. Kids take more math and science, but more material doesn’t improve critical thinking. And teachers have pacing charts, curriculum maps, and calendars; and they are expected to be on the required unit at the required time…or else. We’ve sacrificed quality for quantity, so this is what we get.

Also, this generation of kids has been raised with a great deal of technology that offers instant answers and gratification. The process of thinking “why” is increasingly difficult simply because they don’t have to very often. They don’t have to picture things because the internet or television will show them. I don’t know how we fix that without removing the technology, and that’s not really the way to go, IMO.

Old timer

June 19th, 2012
3:15 pm

As a retired history teacher, I will second all who say…parents make the difference. Dinner tables make a difference. Week end walks in the woods or near a creek make a difference. Exposure to literature, music , and art make a difference.
Schools have been dumbed down for 25 or more years. Parents need to step up.


June 19th, 2012
3:40 pm

Old timer

Schools have been dumbed down for 25 or more years. Parents need to step up.

If I remember correctly , wasn’t it with the advent of Reagan?


June 19th, 2012
3:57 pm

@ Former History Teacher—I teach first grade and fractions are in the standards. We teach 1/2, 1/3, and 1/4 of an object and a set. It’s extremely frustrating to teach 1/4 of 12 to six year olds, but we do it every year.

You will see an achievement gap because lower-income schools are often forced to teach a scripted reading program that lasts all morning, leaving math in the afternoon, and no time to teach science or social studies effectively.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

June 19th, 2012
4:14 pm

As a former middle school-level Special Education Teacher “included” in Science classes, I am not surprised.

“You can’t have good learning opportunities without good teaching opportunities.”

Disrespect, disorder and detachment characterized many of the MS Science classes from which I retired seven years ago. Until these three problems are confronted and solved, we should not expect substantial improvements in the Science skills of kids in many of our underperforming schools.

A Teacher, 2

June 19th, 2012
4:36 pm

In response to some other posters, I have not “abducated” the teaching of critical thinking skills in teaching math classes of all levels. For you know-it-alls out there, you would not believe some of the grief that I have taken in sticking to my guns on this. While there are those that value critical thinking skills, many do not. On every test, I have why, how, and where did that come from questions. Several times a year, I will have parents take me on and tell me that writing is not appropriate in a math class. Some of these same people will tall me that the answer is the only thing that is important.

So, public, what do you really want? For every one I have telling me to teach critical thinking, there is someone else telling me that is not appropriate. I can’t be everything to everyone. Those that criticize everything do not understand this.

Criticize all you want to. I am going to teach math. When you finally decide what you really want, I will still be teaching math. REAL MATH!!


June 19th, 2012
4:46 pm

I suggest all of you google USMES, it was a supplementary Math/Sci program using real world problems to teach skills, including problem solving, reasoning, analysis etc. It was hands on…..non conventional….my students loved the concept and it opened their eyes…..It is not for every teacher or for every student, but the concept is a benchmark on how to improve our deliver real world education that provide measureable results thru critical thinking and problem solving….there is not just one answer to problems, but many, we need to expose students to become thinkers..check it out…you will be surprised..


June 19th, 2012
5:41 pm

The idea of “hands on” or ” inquire” sounds great. With 34 students and no money, how is a teacher suppose to do pull this off?

Give us some money, smaller classes and we can pull this off. In Vermont, which spends twice as much money per a pupil than georgia, this has been the type of test since the beginning of time. It was not until i move to georgia, with no money in a budgets and 34 in a class did I find this difficult to pull off, plus, why teach them how to do these activities when it is not on the test?

Ed Johnson

June 19th, 2012
5:52 pm

Perhaps now might we begin to understand the problem isn’t the teachers, isn’t the students, isn’t the parents, isn’t the “government schools” per se? That the problem is the overly reductive, heavy-handed incursion of Western-style business management and corporatism into public education that “A Nation at Risk” started?

Someone once predicted something along the line: “We, the East, will win and the West will lose because their failure lies in the way they think. They think it is in the natural order of things that those at the top must control those that wield the screwdriver.”

These NAEP results, as well as relevant other results, are words on the hall for one to see, provided one can or cares to see.


June 19th, 2012
6:17 pm

(Mark) When I helped introduce this innovative program in Fulton County, the norm was 40+ students. The secret is getting students involved, many got their parents involved to help support the program, once they became committed to active learning. Keep in mind, the concept in unconventional, it threatened many teachers who were trapped in their thinking by a system to teach the test. When active positive learning occurs, you will not need to worry about money. Unfortunately, our antiquated education model is broken and does not encourage active learning…..the answer is for parents to become active in their childrens education…..demand active learning….the system has its own inertia, thus the results we see…..we need visionaries to lead our schools……


June 19th, 2012
6:26 pm

It is a shame that there isn’t some sort of place kids can go to learn how real scientists work. Some sort of science center. Ideally it would be located in the heart of the city so kids from around the area could access it. Oh wait, there was something like this, but they killed it.

No wonder our kids are mindless memorizing zombies. It is cheaper to teach kids to shut up and memorize than it is to challenge them to think and deal with them being *gasp* individuals. Shut up kid, memorize these facts and spit them out on the Scan-Tron. Good kid, here’s a pellet and a participation trophy. Never mind that in the real world problems rarely ever come with a multiple choice option.


June 19th, 2012
6:31 pm

D.V. Great comment, actually this is a great entrepruenal opp for educators, former educators, retirees, it would create jobs…..supported by private funds…as I write this Exxon is promoting funds for education. Lets organize the best and brightest former educators to solve this…….

Ed Johnson

June 19th, 2012
6:35 pm


June 19th, 2012
6:51 pm

Nikole- Thanks for clarifying the comment about students learning information later. They are actually learning information about 2 years ahead of the old days. Information is power, and many are speaking of information that is not true. I agree with the need to push more critical thinking for our students. However, the timelines do not allow for as much focus on this as we would like. Many of us include as much as we can, but the timelines are full. I spend many hours beyond paid school hours working to make sure my lessons include rigor and relevance. Those types of lessons include critical thinking and performance based activities. When the leaders of our education system focus more on quality than quantity, they will see the scores reflect more mastery of knowledge by the kids. Please don’t say this is the job of the president. No, it is the job of the education departments, parents, local communities, and teachers. People have the power to change the status quo. However, they have to stop complaining, and do something about it. I love teaching, but it is very diifficult to teach as effectively as I would like and still cover all of the material. For example, we have 1 hour daily to teach both science and social studies (not one hour each). The number of weeks it takes to teach both outnumbers the weeks we actually have in school. No one seems to care about this.
Teachers need support where it counts. Blogs are great, but the real communication needs to be with the Federal and Georgia Depts. of Education. We need help and not so much criticism.

Mary Elizabeth

June 19th, 2012
6:59 pm

@ Ed Johnson, 5:52 pm

“Perhaps now might we begin to understand. . . (t)hat the problem is the overly reductive, heavy-handed incursion of Western-style business management and corporatism into public education that ‘A Nation at Risk’ started?”

Although I have only highlighted a part of Ed Johnson’s excellent post at 5:52 pm, his thoughts, in full, are worthy of being reread by readers. They are outstanding.

Also, a reposting, below:

“I have observed that some who view others with generalized, stereotypical perceptions, often insist that the only valid ways of knowing truths are through factual, mathematical, and scientific deductions. Although those ways of perceiving should be valued, it seems that many who accept only those ways of perceiving truth often fail to recognize and to develop higher consciousness concerning why we are here, who we and others are in full, and how we should relate to others. These ways of understanding reality are fostered, not by a series of facts, but by the humanities, which emphasize multilayered dimensions of thinking and perceiving human nature with complexity.”

From “Mary Elizabeth Sings,” 6/11/11

For enhancing complexity in the thought processes of students, the humanities should be afforded emphasis, and status, equal to that of science and mathematics curriculum.

no surprise

June 19th, 2012
7:29 pm

I teach 7th graders math, and most cannot explain either verbally or by writing why a certain answer is the answer. Of course that has to change next year with CCGPS. It is a shame that our children have been let off the hook and not held accountable for their own thoughts and understandings. The problem is that our children no longer have accountability for their learning. It is considered the responsibility of teachers to accommodate their every “special” needs or moods and provide entertaining instruction so that the child will want to learn. External motivation does not work for more than just an event. Also it seems to be the responsibility of parents to ensure assignments are kept up and the child is scoring high enough in class. Where is the child’s ownership of his/her learning or even own grade?


June 19th, 2012
7:37 pm

Appreciate the comments, however, we fail to recognize the fact that our system is not condusive to providing our students with problem solving skills to compete. I am shocked at the lack of leadership from almost all school systems to recognize and address this. Until we demand visionary, responsible leaders, we will continue this conversation….it is that simple


June 19th, 2012
8:54 pm

I would be willing to bet a large percentage of the students taking the NAEP (which actually represents a rather small percentage of American students) are not in the gifted program. My youngest daughter was in TAG in elementary school, where they spent a lot of time on logic exercises. This same daughter often complained about her 4th grade science teacher who refused to do “real” experiments in class because it took too long to clean up. Her sister actually scored better in science on the ITBS, without the TAG but with a great science teacher. It’s hard for kids to “visualize” an experiment and draw conclusions from it. Critical thinking comes from real hands on experimentation, whether it’s real experiments in a classroom or real discovery outside (i.e. caring for a garden, playing in the creek, shooting rockets in the backyard-things many kids don’t do anymore).

I do agree with Mary Elizabeth on bringing back the humanities in schools. In the interest of time and test scores we have gone away from music and art in education. These subjects encourage development of critical thinking skills and problem solving.


June 19th, 2012
8:57 pm

Meant to say that while the daughter in TAG didn’t generally score as well in science, she was much better in math and has better everyday “practical” skills-like figuring out percentages.

Old Physics Teacher

June 19th, 2012
9:02 pm


When you place the entire spectrum of thinking ability in one classroom and demand the teacher teach all of them, you get what you asked for. You wanted everybody to pass? Sure, we can do that. The math questions will then consist of, Q: What is 2 + 2? A) 4; B) 4; C) 4; D) 4.

Sheesh, if you want everybody to pass regardless of the ability, you can only set the bar so high. If you want students to have a high-quality education, that requires some of the students will not be able to pass tests, because the object is to select for the very best.

BTW, I just heard the USA universities produce 70k engineering graduates per year (many of them foreign born). India and China produce 5 to 6 times more engineers. USA-trained engineers can decide between possible choices and pick the best solution. India- and China-educated engineers arbitrarily pick one of the presented possible choices. Not everyone is cut out to be top workers and decision-makers. If it was easy, employers would pay minimum wage.

In short (too late). Mathematical-minded parents tend to produce mathematically proficient children. Or said another way, where the parents place the emphasis, the children will follow – no matter what the teachers and the government want.

Mary Elizabeth

June 19th, 2012
9:07 pm

@ 3schoolkids, 8:54 pm

Thank you for all of your comments at 8:54 pm, 3schoolkids.

I should mention that I was including the study of literature and history, as well as the performing and visual arts, under the umbrella of “the humanities.”