The United States’ science education system is ranked in 21st place out of other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Since testing began in the 1960s, students in the U.S. have been slowly sinking towards the bottom of the list in regards to proficiency.
The shift to emphasis on test scores began to peak in the early 2000s with the No Child Left Behind Act signed by President George W. Bush. With more emphasis on fact regurgitation than on actual knowledge, schools started to turn out students operating at a knowledge deficit. Rote memorization and excessive attention on state test scores has caused students to become bored and disengaged with studying Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects.
In a 2012 report titled, “Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century,” the National Research Council suggests that learning is enhanced when students are given hands-on experience. The study also put forth the idea that in order for lessons to really stick, students need to be shown ways to integrate the problem-solving and critical thinking skills they’ve learned in the classroom into their day-to-day lives. They should be taught the relevance of the concepts they’ve learned so that those concepts fully become part of lifelong body of knowledge.
Teachers need better access to resources and the time to make sure each student is understanding and keeping up with the curriculum. At a time when the scientific evidence on climate change goes misunderstood (or disbelieved) by over 50% of the American population, scientific literacy needs to be taken as seriously as reading and math currently are. Lessons aimed at starting slow and then building up to conquering the more complex scientific concepts could be implemented in schools to give students the building blocks they need to understand scientific ideas and practices.
Testing is not the best way to evaluate a student’s progress, therefore it should not be the only way of assessing a student’s competency or level of learning. Periodic, low-pressure evaluations should be built into the curricula to determine areas where a student may need extra instruction.
The future of the United State’s place in scientific innovation is at stake, and it needs to be take more seriously before it’s too late.