Center for Education Statistics, 2004b). In light of these increases, it is interesting to compare state science requirements for high school graduation with state requirements for higher education admission. Data from a study of requirements as of 2002 revealed a mismatch in the number of states requiring laboratory courses for high school graduation (9) and the number of states requiring laboratory courses for college entrance (20).3 Five states (Florida, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, and Washington) were matched in that at least one science laboratory course was required at both levels. But even within this group, only two states (Florida and Idaho) were perfectly matched in the number of required laboratory courses, while in the remaining three states (Maine, Maryland, and Washington) high school graduation required one laboratory course while college entrance required two. In the four states without this match (Kansas, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia), a laboratory course was required at the high school but not at the college level.

Notably, most states that require a laboratory course for high school graduation or college entrance do not, within those requirements, define what constitutes a laboratory science course. This lack of definitions is one reflection of the larger issue discussed in Chapter 1: researchers and educators do not agree on how to define high school science laboratories or on their purposes in the high school science curriculum.

Science Standards and Assessments

State education policies often focus on identifying clear and specific science standards and creating assessments to measure student attainment of those standards in order to guide improvements in science teaching and learning. However, the goals embodied in state science standards and the ways in which those standards are implemented and assessed do not reflect the full range of educational goals that laboratory experiences may help students attain. These goals include:4

  • Enhancing mastery of subject matter.

  • Developing scientific reasoning.

  • Understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work.

  • Developing practical skills.

  • Understanding the nature of science.

  • Cultivating interest in science and interest in learning science.

  • Developing teamwork abilities.


The lack of alignment between high school graduation requirements and college entrance is apparent in other content areas as well and has been noted in other studies (The Education Trust, 1999).


In Chapter 3, we discuss each goal in greater detail.

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