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4th Graders Are Getting 'Thin' Diet of Science Instruction, Analysis Shows

Many elementary students are on a "starvation diet of thin and infrequent science instruction," according to a new report from Change the Equation.

The nonprofit group, which works with the business community to advocate for improved STEM learning, analyzed data from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress. (Over the last few months, the group has released similar analyses of NAEP data regarding students' access to computer science, statistics, and engineering.)

More than half of 4th graders spend less than three hours a week on science, the data show. And 1 in 5 students get less than two hours. 

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Only about half of 4th graders do hands-on science activities more than once a week. 

The data also show that students who spend more time on science tend to score higher on the NAEP science test. 

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Some states recommend a minimum number of minutes per week that elementary students should learn science—yet even there, few teachers are meeting the mark. For instance, the Arizona department of education recommends 4th graders get 200 minutes per week, but NAEP data show that less than 40 percent of teachers in the state report giving that much science instruction.

According to Change the Equation, two policy shifts could help the situation: giving teachers more professional development, especially in hands-on science instruction, and making science count toward schools' accountability ratings.

Supporting science teachers is even more critical now that 18 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, the group writes. The NGSS require more inquiry and application than most previous state standards. 

"If these conditions do not change, the new standards may not fulfill their promise, and states may squander a vital chance to give children a strong foundation for achievement in middle school science and beyond," the report says.


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