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Chicago 8th-graders score near bottom in national science tests

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Avg. eighth-grade science scores

Avg. fourth-grade science scores

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Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Chicago Public School eighth-graders racked up the fourth-worst science scores among 17 big-city districts to take a national science test, results released Thursday indicated.

The city’s African-American eighth-grade performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress was particularly disturbing.

CPS black eighth-graders tied their Baltimore counterparts in producing the worst African-American eighth-grade science scores among the nation’s large urban districts.

“The big effect is that these kids may have limited futures,’’ said Barbara Radner, head of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education. “We need science for kids to go to college.’’

Chicago fourth-graders fared slightly better, coming in seventh from the bottom. They averaged a score of 125 on the 300-point test, while CPS eighth-graders averaged 121.

The results come amid calls from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan —Chicago’s former Schools CEO — and President Obama for schools to step up exposure to science, technology and engineering.

In eighth grade, a stunning 71 percent of CPS students scored below the most basic science level. Chicago’s eighth-grade results were subpar across virtually all racial and economic groups, except for Hispanics, whose scores were similar to those of Hispanics in other big cities.

Overall, CPS eighth-graders outscored Detroit, tied Cleveland, but fell behind peers in New York, Miami, Houston and Boston. But among African-American eighth-graders, Chicago’s science scores tied for the worst.

“As an African-American male, that make me sad and angry,’’ said Walter Taylor, a former CPS eighth-grade science teacher who now serves as a Chicago Teachers Union teacher facilitator.

Taylor noted that many heavily African-American CPS schools are on academic probation, so teachers there are pushed to emphasize reading and math over science and social studies because of the huge factor reading and math test results play in whether a school is closed. Even in science class, students may be reading about Madame Curie rather than doing experiments, Taylor said.

John Loerh, CPS acting science director, agreed that the federal No Child Left Behind law has so “ratcheted up’’ the consequences of reading and math that schools are marginalizing science and social studies.

“In what limited time is left for science, it’s difficult for our teachers to give due justice to those things that develop critical thinking,’’ Loerh said.

Plus, experts say, science done well requires time and resources. Teachers need to physically set up lab work for students, preview what kids will be doing, allow time for experiments and clean up, and then prepare for the next class.

Loerh said CPS is hoping one answer lies in an online science curriculum, developed by the Discovery Channel, that allows kids to do experiments online in less time than if their teachers set up experiments for them.

Taylor said, “That’s wonderful. Now supply the computers and Internet access.”



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