New York state’s efforts to transform science education

In the early 1990s, many young Americans were not prepared to work in, contribute to, or benefit from our technological society. Mathematics and science achievement scores of American 17 year olds had been dropping steadily and dramatically. In New York state several years of work resulted in revised NYS math, science and technology standards, officially adopted by the New York State Board of Regents in 1996.

Given that history, current New York state science education programs are based on knowledge and concepts about science and science teaching established more than two decades ago. Those of us in the science education profession today can confirm that our understanding of science teaching and learning has both changed and grown over the past 20 plus years. And can anyone argue that our knowledge and understanding of science has not changed and grown, in many ways drastically, over this time?

But the need for change in how we teach science is not simply a story of it’s “about time.” There are many reasons to suggest that today’s young Americans, including those attending and graduating from NYS’s secondary schools, are not prepared to participate in the increasingly science and technology based economy that exists today, and will even more so in the future. This is not only a threat to the well-being of future citizens, but to the economic well-being and security of NYS.

Over the past several years we have had reliable and alarming data on which to make some very important decisions about science education in NYS.

∫ The 2015 Trends in International Math and Science Study show questionable competitiveness of American students, reporting that U.S. grade four students ranked 10 out of 47 countries; U.S. grade eight students ranked 11 out of 39 countries.

∫ There is avoidance on the part of state high school students of the study of the physical sciences. In 2016, while 239,540 students took the Living Environment (New York state’s title for the biology course) Regents exam, only 106,408 took the chemistry Regents exam and only 47,917 took the physics Regents exam.

∫ There has been a decrease in hands-on, minds-on, inquiry based science instruction in elementary schools, and the pressures of th Common Core standards have resulted in drastic reductions in time spent on science instruction.

ARNIE SEROTSKY

Co-facilitator, New York state Science Education Consortium

Past president and fellow, Science Teachers Association of New York state