For Most U.S. High Schoolers, STEM Knowledge Is Only Skin Deep

Judy Hartnett's picture
Thursday, June 21, 2012

American teens are adept at conducting scientific experiments, but only if they don't stray beyond the basics, according to assessment results released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Seventy-five percent of high school seniors successfully completed straightforward experiments as part of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science exam. When tasked with more complicated experiments, only 25 percent came to the correct conclusion.

Students have even more trouble explaining their results and drawing conclusions from the data they collected during the experiments. Only 11 percent of the 12th-grade students were able to do so, according to "The Nation's Report Card: Science in Action," which detailed results for students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

In a competitive, technology-dominated society, simply following instructions will not cut it, Alan Friedman, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, the policy arm of the NAEP, said at a panel discussion of the results on Tuesday.

"Testing to see how much students can memorize and how well they can follow the instructions is no longer good enough," Friedman said. "It's crucial to know if students understand … how to draw the best of all possible solutions."

Read more