At Issue: Science Education in Vermont - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

At Issue: Science Education in Vermont

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At Issue this week, the state recently released science test results from some Vermont students, and the results showed many are still lagging behind.

"The test scores are important, but test scores are just one measure of student success," says Vermont Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca.

And right now, Vermont science students aren't measuring up as well as hoped on those tests.

This spring, 47 percent of the state's fourth graders were proficient or higher in science -- down six percent from last year's level. 32 percent of eighth graders were proficient or higher -- up two percent. And 31 percent of eleventh graders were proficient -- down two percent from last year.

The NECAPs focus more on applied learning, where students have to show they understand how the concepts they learn work in different situations. But many curriculums don't prioritize that yet, and the state wants to change that.

"We're not preparing kids to take assessments. We're preparing kids to think like scientists, to be inquiry-based, to be able to take concepts and apply them in reality," Vilaseca says.

Part of the state's new focus for teaching science is to make it more hands-on, taking it from the books to real situations.

"Most of the science education that we all had was sort-of memorization. Here are the facts, here are the four possible answers, pick one," he says. "What we're asking students to do now is take those facts and then figure out how they're applied in a more relevant and realistic manner."

Vilaseca stresses students' education isn't just about standardized tests but admits teachers could be making science more accessible by presenting the material differently, like taking the class outdoors to learn about science in nature and tying science in with language arts. And he says there are resources available for teachers who want to take classes to refresh their own learning.

"Current teachers -- schools need to do professional development," says Vilaseca. "Help them see how applying science not only provides a more interesting and exciting science class, but also allows students to be able to do well on standardized assessments."

Vilaseca says he's also concerned about the achievement gap between students from lower-income families and their peers and says they're looking at ways to close that gap.

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