mandated by many states based on these national standards and benchmarks (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1997). These standards call for students increasingly to engage in inquiry-based, collaborative learning experiences that emphasize observation, collection, and analysis of data from student-oriented experiments. They also stress the importance of helping students learn about the relationships among the sciences and the relevance of science, mathematics, and technology to other realms of inquiry and practice.

At present, not all K-12 students receive an acceptable preparation in science and mathematics at the pre-college level. For example, in the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress examinations in mathematics, about one in three students in grades 4 and 8 and slightly less than one in three (31%) in grade 12 could not demonstrate even the most basic competency, and only 5% or less performed at the advanced level (e.g., Reese et al., 1997). In the most recent relevant international study, students from the United States demonstrated a steady decline from the 4th through the 12th grade in their mathematics and science performance. By 12th grade, American students ranked near the bottom in every category for knowledge of both general and advanced levels of science and mathematics in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) compared with their counterparts in countries around the world (U.S. Department of Education, 1998a, although see Rotberg, 19985).

Students who do arrive at college with what traditionally has been considered good preparation in science and mathematics (e.g., Advanced Placement course work) may not have actually developed a real conceptual understanding or the ability to solve problems, particularly in mathematics and the physical sciences, when compared with students in other countries with similar educational backgrounds (Juillerat et al., 1997; U.S. Department of Education, 1998a). Yet, at present, in the United States, students with Advanced Placement (AP) credits and high AP exam scores in hand can sometimes avoid any further science or mathematics classes at the postsecondary level that would lead them to think about SME&T subject matter more deeply.6

The clear national need for SME&T competency has helped drive the development and implementation of standards for K-12 mathematics and science (with technology standards anticipated in the spring of 1999). These standards present institutions of higher education with a great opportunity

  • to better define what they expect students to know and be able to do in SME&T as a requirement of admission; and to
  • institute their own innovative approaches to the teaching and learning of science, mathematics, and technology that complement and extend those called for in the standards.

The implications of changes in admissions policies include

  • assisting students and their parents to understand the value of SME&T competency for all students pursuing any career direction; and

5  

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) represents the most extensive investigation of mathematics and science education ever conducted. Approximately 50 countries participated in this comparative survey of education focusing on nine- and thirteen-year-old students and students in their last year of secondary school. For the oldest students, TIMSS analyses considered three groups: a cross section of all students completing their last year of secondary education, i.e., a "literacy" sample; mathematics specialists, i.e., those students studying or having studied calculus; and science specialists, i.e., those students studying or having studied physics. (Modified from information available from the U.S. National Research Center for TIMSS. More information about this examination is available at <http://ustimss.msu.edu/>. There have been differences of opinion about the TIMSS assessments, particularly at the 12th grade level, where the results have been challenged based on perceived deficiencies in the collection and statistical analyses of the data (Rotberg, 1998). In a response to Rotberg, the methods employed in the TIMSS study have been defended by Schmidt and McKnight (1998).

6  

Advanced Placement (AP) credits and high AP examination scores can allow some students to complete or waive specific college graduation requirements, including in science and mathematics, at some postsecondary institutions.



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