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Science Classes May Give Unequal Opportunity to Learn, Study Says

Students in high-performing schools have more and deeper opportunities to learn science than those in struggling schools, according to a recent Massachusetts course audit released by the Rennie Center.

Last month I reported on a math curriculum audit by the federal National Center of Education Sciences that found most Algebra 1 and geometry courses were middling on rigor, and that minority students were more likely to take less-rigorous courses with the same title. The Rennie Center's spring policy-research report, "Opportunity to Learn Science?" takes a similar look at science classes and activities in low- and high-performing schools.

No big surprise, the audit found high-performing schools were more likely to have teachers certified to teach science, and to have positions for instructors who only teach science (even in elementary grades.) Students in high-performing schools had on average 60 minutes more science instruction each week than students in low-performing schools, and they were also more likely to have access to Advanced Placement and other honors courses in science. High-performing schools were also more likely to offer science-based extracurricular activities, such as science fairs and clubs.

These gaps are especially concerning coming from Massachusetts, which routinely leads the nation in science achievement. It will be interesting to see whether states that adopt new next-generation science standards are able to close gaps in rigor among different schools.

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