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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education
ccarney@indiana.edu
812-856-8027

Last modified: Monday, September 24, 2007

Indiana students achieve well in math and science, but there are concerns

New CEEP Policy Brief compares Hoosier students nationally, internationally

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 24, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new study from Indiana University researchers indicates Indiana students are doing well in mathematics and science but suggests more should be done to maintain and build on their achievements.

Terry Spradlin

Terry Spradlin

The latest policy brief from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) is called "Indiana's Mathematics and Science Performance: Do We Measure Up?" The study takes a look at the state's standardized test results from the ISTEP Plus exam, and analyzes national and international data through the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) -- considered "The Nation's Report Card"-- and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The report examines test scores from the last 17 years.

The policy brief comes just before Tuesday's (Sept. 25) release of 2007 NAEP data by the U.S. Department of Education, which will include results for mathematics and reading.

The results analyzed in the CEEP study are encouraging for Indiana students. The NAEP data, which covers fourth and eighth grade students, showed Indiana as among the nation's best in mathematics. During the last 15 years of testing, Indiana eighth graders improved in each test, consistently scoring above the national average. Report co-author Terry Spradlin, CEEP associate director for education policy, said the fourth graders did even better.

"In comparison to our neighboring Midwestern states, only Ohio exceeded Indiana's performance on mathematics," he said. "And we're pretty close to the top as far as the top-achieving states in the nation."

The TIMSS data, placing Indiana in comparison with other nations, showed the state's fourth and eighth graders achieved at a level that is as good as all but a small number of nations in math.

Science achievement presents a more mixed picture and is an area of some concern, according to the report. While TIMSS results place Indiana fourth-grade students as second in the world in 2003 -- just behind Singapore -- for science achievement, both TIMSS and NAEP data show students decline in their science achievement as they progress in school. Eighth graders scored lower on both tests than did Hoosier fourth graders. In addition, overall NAEP scale scores declined for Indiana's fourth and eighth grade students in 2005 from the 2000 scores.

"Many times we hear from students that they don't find science curriculum rigorous or relevant," Spradlin said. "They can't relate to the coursework or the methods of teaching that science teachers are using." The policy brief recommends better teaching methods that connect science to everyday situations as a remedy.

While the report indicates reason for optimism, here are some additional recommendations:

  • The state should not slow down in emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.
  • More should be done to improve science instruction at the middle school and high school levels.
  • Advanced placement courses are key and more should be done to make sure students in smaller districts have access to such courses through distance learning.
  • Teacher recruitment and retention should be examined to better prepare highly qualified teachers in math and science. The report says the state relies too much on emergency teacher licenses in those subjects to fill the growing need.

The full report may be viewed at http://ceep.indiana.edu/projects/PDF/PB_V5N7_Fall_2007_EPB.pdf.

CEEP promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for education, human services and non-profit organizations. Its research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. To learn more about CEEP, go to http://ceep.indiana.edu.

MEDIA OUTLETS: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://site.educ.indiana.edu/news/tabid/5663/Default.aspx. Look for the story headline under "Podcasts."

Spradlin says NAEP results show solid achievement by Indiana students in mathematics:

"For Indiana, over five iterations of the NAEP math test at grade four from 1992 to 2005, with each iteration, Indiana's performance increased and we are above the national average. So that's very good. And in comparison to our neighboring Midwestern states, only Ohio exceeded Indiana's performance on NAEP. And we're pretty close to the top as far as the top-achieving states in the nation. So grade four mathematics, that's good information. Grade eight, we saw a similar trend for six iterations of that test. Between 1990 and 2005, with each test our performance increased."

The drop-off in science achievement could have something to do with how the material is presented, Spradlin says:

"Many times we hear from students that they don't find science curriculum rigorous or relevant -- they can't relate to the coursework or the methods of teaching that science teachers are using. So teachers must do a better job explaining their ideas, connecting scientific events, and guiding scientific investigations. In addition, by making sophisticated use of technology, science courses can provide visualizations of complex phenomena that help students connect school science to everyday situations."

The state should get credit for increasing graduation requirements, improving curriculum, and other school reforms that might be contributors to the math and science scores, but Spradlin says the state must not rest on its laurels:

"We need to continue those efforts, especially in rural communities in Indiana. They may not be able to offer advance coursework that some of our urban and suburban districts can. So through distance learning -- one of our recommendations is that every student, every high school student in the state be given the opportunity to take advance placement courses and tests, as well as dual credit courses in a wide array of course areas, including STEM education."

For more Information, contact Chuck Carney, director of communications and media relations for the IU School of Education, at 812-856-8027 and ccarney@indiana.edu.