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Report: Most States Come Up Short Preparing Students for Life-Sciences Careers


ATLANTA — Eight Northeastern and Midwestern states — including Massachusetts, home to a top-tier biocluster — were among the nation's leaders in preparing middle and high school students for life science careers, while Georgia, the host state of the BIO 2009 International Convention being held here this week, was among 10 states with the lowest ranking, according to a report released this morning.

Taking the Pulse of Bioscience Education in America: A State-By-State Analysis found that most US states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are generally failing to prepare students for pursuing biosciences studies when they get to college.

The results, according to the report, reflect wide disparities between stats in measures of student achievement in overall science and the life sciences, in ensuring that science and bioscience teachers are well qualified, in incorporating the biosciences in state science standards, and in supporting focused bioscience education programs and higher level bioscience courses.

"More must be done to raise the level and quality of bioscience education if the United States is to remain globally competitive in the biosciences. Many examples exist of the type of programs that work; but, they need to be replicated and states need to commit resources to them," the report concluded.

In addition to Massachusetts, the other states in the top of four tiers measured by the report were Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

States joining Georgia in the lowest quartile were Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia.

The rest of the results:

• Second Tier — Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

• "Middling Performance," or third tier — Alabama, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Montana, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

"Everywhere I go, every state tells me, 'We want to be the next biotechnology hub.' And so, we're calling their bluff," BIO President and CEO James Greenwood said, in remarks Sunday night at a banquet held at the Atlanta Marriot Marquis hotel as part of the Biotechnology Institute's 2009 Conference on Biotechnology Education.

“Great. We’re going to see how you’re doing in preparing your young people into this field. We are able with this study to go to that state and say, 'Well, State X, if you want to be a biotechnology hub, then how come you're 43 out of 50 when it comes to providing good curriculum and training?" Greenwood added.

The report recommended states pursue several actions to improve their students' life science knowledge and interest in careers in the field:

• Incorporate biotechnology as they revise their science standards, and involve research scientists with expertise in the biosciences in their development.

• Commit to improving student achievement in biology and the life sciences, and ensure that their high school graduates are ready to pursue college-level bioscience courses.

• Improve their collection and dissemination of data, tracking student participation and performance in the biosciences and the broader sciences.

• Adopt a more systematic approach to teacher professional development, experiential learning, and career awareness.

The report ranked states based on their performance on four measures: Average life sciences scores on the 8th Grade National Assessment of Educational Progress test; The percentage of students scoring 3 or higher on the 2008 advanced placement biology exams; the percent of ACT-tested students ready for college-level biology, 2008; and an index of state averages in both ACT and SAT exams relative to the US and weighted by the share of high school graduates in each state taking each exam, 2008, with the national average set at 1.0.

The report was released by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, and the Biotechnology Institute. Representatives of all three groups were set to discuss the results later today at a briefing for reporters during the first day of BIO 2009, being held at the Georgia World Congress Center.

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