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Science A Sore Subject For Urban Youth

February 25, 2011

According to a report released on Thursday, US students in the largest cities in the country, many from low-income households, are trailing their peers elsewhere in the country when it comes to science proficiency.

Among 17 participating urban districts that tested students’ science knowledge, most fourth- and eighth-graders scored lower than the national average, the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress Science report found.

“The results are shouting at us: Whatever we are doing in science education in these big city public schools, it isn’t working for the vast majority of our students,” Alan Friedman, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, told Reuters.

The Trial Urban District Assessment tested between 900 and 2,200 students in each grade level in school districts — including San Diego, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, et al.

Demographics of the participating schools vary from both the national average and between districts.

Some of the districts reported that English is not the first language in up to 40 percent of their students. And anywhere from 47 to 100 percent of students in the urban areas are from lower-income families, according to the report.

The results of the testing also pose problems for civic engagement and decision making in the future, said Friedman, a former director for the New York Hall of Science.

“Even for students who don’t enter careers requiring some science competence, as citizens they will soon be involved in issues like climate change, energy policy and medical research,” Friedman said.

The test measured students’ understanding of physical science, life science and earth and space sciences. The report card, dubbed the Nation’s Report Card, showed that 44 percent of fourth-graders at schools in cities with a population of 250,000 or more fall below the standard for basic science proficiency, compared to 29 percent nationally.

The report found that 56 percent of eighth-graders in large public school systems fell below the basic standard compared to 38 percent nationally.

The study underlined the importance for increased focus on a national science curriculum strategy that has an impact at the local level, said panelists at the study release in Boston.

The study findings also could not be compared to past studies because students had been assessed in a new way to bring the results in line with international standards.

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