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Opportunity to Learn Audit: Elementary Science,

Abstract

"Despite widespread media and public attention to the need for U.S. students to be globally competitive in science-related fields, remarkably little emphasis is placed on improving elementary science in U.S. public schools. Yet, it is effective elementary science programs that provide the foundation for a sound K-12 education in science. In a new report, Opportunity to Learn: Elementary Science, the Rennie Center analyzes whether students in high- and low-performing schools receive equitable opportunities to learn in science and, importantly, profiles the promising practices of schools that are beating the odds and succeeding at educating students to high levels in science. This report is the first in a two-part study that the Rennie Center is producing on Massachusetts students' opportunity to learn science. The second report, to be released in late Fall 2008, is being developed in partnership with the Education Development Center and will highlight opportunities to learn science at the high school level (9-12).

The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation and state accountability systems have created external incentives to improve student achievement in science in addition to English language arts (ELA) and math. In 2010, Massachusetts will require all 10th graders to pass one of the science MCAS tests (in biology, physics, chemistry or technology/engineering) in order to receive a diploma. Yet, to date, schools have increasingly placed their emphasis on math and ELA, to the detriment of science. There also exists a substantial racial/ethnic achievement gap in the sciences, just as there is in math and ELA. English language learners, those who are African American or Hispanic, and students from low-income homes are all falling well below the standards for proficiency set by the state. Given that the state holds all students accountable for their performance in science, it is necessary to examine whether all students are receiving equitable opportunities to learn and succeed at science. This report seeks to identify concretely what top-performing schools do to support science instruction and to draw out considerations for policymakers at the district and state levels."

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