The Center in the Media
San Jose Mercury News
California lags in middle-school science teaching, study finds
By Sharon Noguchi
Budget woes and a focus on English and math testing have contributed to California's sorely lagging in middle school science education, according to a study published Thursday.
Only 14 percent of middle-school science teachers practice what researchers consider high-quality science teaching. Others are hampered by various factors, including lack of expertise and funding, large class sizes that inhibit conducting experiments, unprepared students and a dearth of materials.
"California does not have a coherent system that enables teachers and schools to consistently provide middle school students with high-quality science learning experiences," read the study commissioned by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at West Ed in Sacramento. Researchers surveyed 451 school districts as well as hundreds of principals and teachers.
The problems aren't as severe as at elementary schools, which a study by the same researchers last fall found often didn't make time to teach science and lacked qualified instructors. Among middle-school science teachers, three-quarters either have a background or are credentialed in science, the study found.
But the study said a good science program includes teaching what scientists do, using the language of science and engaging in practices such as hands-on activities, designing experiments, participating in field work and presenting to the class.
Most middle-school students take science classes.
But the study found that many enter with no background in the subject, so middle-school teachers must start from scratch. Teachers find it difficult to find a common ground or starting point for students.
While teachers said they would like to teach hands-on lessons -- 81 percent of them create their own materials -- many don't have access to science kits or other materials. And researchers found that with classes of 35 students, experiments designed for 25 students often can't be adapted, nor can any experiment requiring more than a simple setup.
Science teaching also has suffered from schools' emphasis on English and math, the two subjects tested in annual state tests and determining schools' rankings, the study found. And because science weighs less heavily in state tests, lagging students may be pulled out from science classes for remediation in math or English.
The study was conducted by the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley and SRI International in Menlo Park.