school lunch orders to the dispatcher. The custodial staff may be in a workshop to learn how to operate the school's new, high-tech security system. The administrative assistant could be faxing immunization records to the school system's central office to expedite the registration of new students. Using the school's computer network, your child's teacher may be looking at grade reports as the principal reviews the agenda of the upcoming school board meeting.
During the past two decades, science also has become more integral to our daily lives. Twenty-five years ago, if a child injured her knee while playing soccer, parents would take her to the emergency room for an X-ray. Today, the doctor could recommend an MRI (magnetic resonance image) as well. The more familiar people are with such devices and procedures the easier it will be to make informed decisions about their use.
Many of us in our own homes and workplaces are scrambling to keep up with science and technology, but our children cannot afford to be unprepared. They must be ready to take their roles as citizens, employees, and family members in a rapidly changing world and highly competitive global job market.
Preparation for a more scientifically and technologically complex world requires the best possible education. Beginning in kindergarten, children must learn how to think critically, synthesize information accurately, and solve problems creatively. They also need new skills-facility with computers, the ability to communicate using all available media, and familiarity with the science and technology that form the foundation of the modern world.
Is our educational system meeting the changing needs of our students? Evidence from the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggests not. Administered to students in grades 4, 8, and 12, these tests are designed to provide a snapshot of our progress in science education. Although most students have some grasp of basic scientific facts and principles by the end of high school, they are not able to apply scientific knowledge to a new situation, design an original experiment, or explain the reasoning behind their answers.
The Purposes of NAEP and TIMSS
For over 25 years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been the United States' only ongoing assessment of K-12 students' educational progress. This Congressionally mandated test measures what students know and are able to do against what has been agreed as desirable for students to know and be able to do in science as well as in other subjects. Whereas NAEP scores show the level of knowledge a student has (basic, proficient, or advanced), the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is an international comparative study on an agreed upon set of topics in math and science.