Schools prepare to be tested on science

Sunday, November 25, 2007
Teacher Amie Turner used a model to explain the structure of a flower during a science class Nov. 5 at Mark Twain Elementary School in Springfield, Mo. Starting in April, students in grades five, eight and 11 will be tested on science, as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools are already preparing their students for the tests. (Steve J.P. Liang ~ Springfield News-Leader)

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Amie Turner's fifth-grade students at Mark Twain Elementary peeled back the petals of lilies and looked inside.

Students identified female parts, like the stigma and ovaries, and the male part, the stamen. "It's pretty cool to look at this stuff," said Ty Thatcher. "Some of this stuff you never knew was in a flower."

Turner ended the lesson by giving students an "exit slip" -- similar to a quiz -- which helps her track how much information they grasped from the science lesson. Near the end of the school year, the government will want to know, too.

Starting this year, the No Child Left Behind Act requires all public school students in grades five, eight and 11 to be tested in science. Students already take exams in math and communication arts.

The exams, which can take two to four hours to administer depending on the subject, are scheduled for early April. Each test covers material students were supposed to learn over several years.

"Last year we took our tests over a three-day period," said Turner, who has taught for eight years. "This year, with science, it will probably be over a full week."

Although the science tests are mandated by No Child Left Behind, the results will not carry the same weight as results of the math and communication arts exams, said Becky Odneal, the state's coordinator of School Improvement and Accountability.

Low scores in math or communication arts can trigger federal penalties for some schools.

But results of the science exams will likely have an effect on how the state evaluates school performance in the Annual Performance Reports. The reports determine whether a school system can boast an award such as "Distinction in Performance" or put a district on notice that it is in danger of losing state accreditation.

"We haven't decided how science will be incorporated into the APR," Odneal said. "It may be that it counts as bonus points. ... Since we will only have one year of data, we hesitate to give it a lot of weight."

In the early part of the decade, Missouri required science exams at some grade levels, then offered them voluntarily after the state legislature cut funding for them.

A social studies exam -- also once required -- will no longer be offered even as a voluntary test.

While the exact consequences of the science scores are unclear, Turner said the Springfield district is taking steps to prepare students.

Student Breanne Price, who says she loves science, isn't worried.

"I have a great teacher, and I know she'll teach us what we need to know," she said.

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