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'Mediocre to Awful'

"Mediocre to awful" is not the description most people want to hear about the quality of science education in the US. But a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute shows that many state standards for science education are worthy of a failing grade, reports Scientific American's Anna Kuchment at the Budding Scientist blog. "Standards are the foundation upon which educators build curricula, write textbooks and train teachers," Kuchment says. "They often take the form of a list of facts and skills that students must master at each grade level. Each state is free to formulate its own standards, and numerous studies have found that high standards are a first step on the road to high student achievement." Only California and the District of Columbia were awarded As. Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Virginia scored A-minuses, while Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and several others scored Fs.

The study's lead authors found four factors that contribute to the quality of standards, Kuchment says — "an undermining of evolution, vague goals, not enough guidance for teachers on how to integrate the history of science and the concept of scientific inquiry into their lessons, and not enough math instruction." For example, eight anti-evolution bills were introduced in six states in 2011, she adds, and in some states, standards for introducing science into the classroom are "vague to the point of uselessness."

There is some good news, however. Twenty-six states have agreed to write new standards that will be "more rigorous and specific" than what they currently have, Kuchment says.

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