News: AAAS News & Notes
28 September 2007
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
AAAS Calls for National Standards As No Child Left Behind Testing Starts
American public school students will add one more important exam to their academic calendars this year: the first science assessments required by the national No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Under the 2001 statute, school districts must test students in science at least once in each of three grade spans: 3 to 5, 6 to 9, and 10 to 12. But in the absence of national standards for these tests, the exams vary from state to state, and AAAS experts say some of the tests may not make the grade.
In a 15 August op-ed in the Washington Times, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner urged U.S. lawmakers to "scrap the crazy-quilt pattern of wildly differing tests and proficiency thresholds that currently vary from state to state" and adopt voluntary national standards in science and math education as NCLB testing approaches.
Earlier this year, AAAS thanked Representative Vernon Ehlers (R—MI) and Senator Chris Dodd (D—CN) for their sponsorship of the SPEAK Act, which favored voluntary national standards. Variations in state learning standards and tests "make it difficult for parents and teachers to meaningfully gauge how well their children are learning mathematics and science in comparison to their peers internationally or here at home," the SPEAK authors concluded.
National standards for science education would not be hard to come by, Leshner noted in the op-ed, as AAAS and other organizations such as the National Research Council, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress have worked on these guidelines for several decades.
"There are two challenges that states must meet," explained George DeBoer, deputy director of Project 2061, AAAS's science literacy initiative. "The first is to develop high-quality standards. The second is to develop assessments that are aligned to those standards." Project 2061's surveys show that questions on many state assessment tests are unrelated to the key science concepts and skills outlined in AAAS's Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.
Supported by a 5-year U.S. National Science Foundation grant, Project 2061 and its collaborators are building a database of appropriate multiple-choice items and open-ended questions for middle school and early high school students that states could use as a guide in developing their NCLB tests. The group has used science curricula and education experts, interviews, and pilot testing of hundreds of students to develop questions that target specific, standards-based concepts without confusing students with unclear language or too much jargon.
"When we talk about the work we're doing, people get excited about the high quality of the test questions and the precision of the alignment of those questions to content standards," DeBoer said.
The start of NCLB science testing highlights the need for higher-quality state tests, Project 2061 Director Jo Ellen Roseman wrote in a recent newsletter on the project, since the assessments "will only provide meaningful information if they are truly aligned to important science ideas, such as those in national benchmarks and standards."
While experts worry over readying the exams, the new testing requirements may not be a priority yet for school boards. Connie Bertka, program director of AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, oversees a 3-year project by AAAS and the National School Boards Association working with local school boards to make science education a community priority. She offered this anecdote: At a June meeting with local school board members in Kansas City, she "did not hear a lot of questions about how to get kids ready for NCLB testing."
Instead, the members that Bertka met were focused on ways to attract more resources to their district, particularly more high-quality science teachers. "I think it's still too far away for them-the tests have to be taken, the results have to be in," she said. "They have so many other things on their plate that they can't afford to get worried about this yet."
The NCLB law requires annual state testing in reading and mathematics for grades 3 through 8 in federally funded schools. Schools that do not score up to statewide standards in these subjects can face a range of corrective actions, from curricula changes to school closure. The first science tests must be completed by the end of the 2007-2008 school year.
Congress is keeping national science standards and the new tests in mind as it considers reauthorization of the NCLB law this fall. One version of the reauthorization bill, sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (I—CN), Mary Landrieu (D—LA), and Norm Coleman (R—MN), calls for voluntary science and mathematics standards based on recommendations by the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress. A proposed amendment sponsored by Ehlers and Representative Rush Holt (D—NJ) would add science exam scores to the reading and mathematics scores used to calculate a school's overall yearly progress report.
New Mission Statement Focuses on Global Service, Leadership
The AAAS Board of Directors has revised the Association's mission statement emphasizing leadership on national and international scientific issues, the important role of engineers in its membership, and its commitment to science serving society.
The amended statement, adopted 20 August, reflects a 5-year expansion in AAAS's strategic role that includes broadening its international leadership activities and its role as scientific advisor in a variety of societal issues, from education to national security to health care. The revised statement also addresses changes in the scientific workforce, the proliferation of technology, and challenges to the integrity of science.
AAAS's mission statement has evolved substantially since its first constitution in 1856, in keeping with the growth of the U.S. scientific community and the rise of science and technology in public life. Some of the original "rules and objects" of the Association, such as fostering communication between researchers and supporting the scientific enterprise, remain a priority.
The new statement
Mission: To advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.
Enhance communication among scientists, engineers, and the public;
Promote and defend the integrity of science and its use;
Strengthen support for the science and technology enterprise;
Provide a voice for science on societal issues;
Promote the responsible use of science in public policy;
Strengthen and diversify the science and technology workforce;
Foster education in science and technology for everyone;
Increase public engagement with science and technology; and
Advance international cooperation in science.
S&T Fellows Push for Impact on Sustainability
Holmes Hummel, Lekelia "Kiki" Jenkins, Joshuah Stolaroff
On the first morning of orientation for the new class of AAAS Science & Technology (S&T) Policy Fellows earlier this month, climate and energy scientist Holmes Hummel invited all Fellows interested in climate change, energy, and environmental issues to a lunchtime get-acquainted meeting.
Of 116 new Fellows, 35 showed up-a clear signal that sustainability issues are a galvanizing concern for many of the scientists and engineers who will serve in 1-year positions in Congress and a broad array of federal agencies.
"What I witnessed was a type of resolve," said Hummel, a Congressional Fellow. "For the last 10 years we've heard from every corner of social leadership that climate change and national security issues, related, will be major problems for our generation. Now we're seeing more early-stage career scientists answering the call."
For 34 years, the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships have matched scientists and engineers in a range of fields-from agriculture and atomic physics to science education and defense technology-with executive branch agencies and congressional offices in Washington, D.C., that are seeking scientific expertise. Hundreds of Fellows have continued on to build high-impact careers in government, while others have moved into leadership positions in academia, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector.
In all, there are 162 Fellows this year, including 46 who are remaining with the Fellowship for a second year. Their interest in climate and sustainability issues continues a trend: 2 years ago, a group of Fellows met monthly to address sustainability and water issues; last year, a group met regularly to share resources and collaborate on sustainability problems, including climate change.
"Although the Fellows represent diverse scientific and engineering disciplines, they typically come to Washington to apply their expertise to the societal challenges of the times," said Cynthia Robinson, director of the Fellowships. "We're pleased to see this trend continue as climate change and related sustainability and security issues gain more recognition nationally and internationally."
In interviews, several 2007-08 Fellows said they wanted to explore multidisciplinary life beyond the lab. They're drawn to work that crosses disciplines. They tend to have a streak of idealism, and some expressed frustration that U.S. policy has blocked progress on critical sustainability challenges.
Before she became a Fellow in 2006, Adrienne Huston made four trips to the Arctic and spent two postdoctoral years at the University of Belgium in Liège for research focused on how the enzymes emitted by some Arctic bacteria can affect global carbon dioxide levels. Much of her research involved international collaboration, and she has become an advocate of science diplomacy. This year, she renewed her fellowship for a second year in the Office of International Science & Engineering at the National Science Foundation.
"I want to understand how science is done in a society," Huston explained. "Where do we want to be in 20 years, and how do we get there?"
Lekelia "Kiki" Jenkins says that sustainability issues will comprise an important part of her Fellowship work with the Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her scholarly work had been in marine conservation and related technologies, but she suspected that the pursuit of tenure might be limiting.
"I don't want to have to compromise and spend 5 or 7 years doing work that someone else tells me is important before I can get down to doing the things that are really going to affect the quality of life for people and animals in this world," Jenkins said.
The conventional wisdom is that federal science policy is in the doldrums, but several of the Fellows described this as a time of opportunity. Critical measures on climate change, energy, and environmental policy will be debated in Congress this fall, and the White House recently has signaled readiness to act more aggressively on such issues.
Joshuah Stolaroff has done much of his research in climate policy and CO2 sequestration technology, and he'll work for the next year in the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Management. He expects that Fellows will provide valuable expertise while the nation's political climate is changing.
"Energy and climate issues have been important for at least 5 or 10 years, but this year we're seeing that the public really knows that they're important," Stolaroff said. "There's a lot of momentum building. It's very encouraging as a scientist to know that there's public support for the things you've been working on."
Subscribers are reading a greener copy of Science these days, thanks to a recent switch to recycled paper for its pages. Introduced in April, the new paper stock is made from 30% post-consumer materials. The stock is also elemental chlorine-free, processed with chlorine dioxide instead of pure chlorine gas, which reduces the toxic by-products of paper pulp bleaching
The journal is now a bit slimmer, but "the most significant change that readers might notice is that the paper doesn't have a coating," said James Landry, Science's production director. The matte paper reduces reading glare and "is easier on the eyes," he explained.
Science Executive Editor Monica M. Bradford began a search for greener alternatives after attending a session on recycled paper at the 2006 meeting of the Council of Science Editors. "Our content makes it clear that we are pro-environment. I thought that it was important that Science practice what it preaches to the extent possible," Bradford explained.
In keeping with Science's international reach, the new paper has a multinational pedigree of its own. The stock is manufactured by Finnish paper company UPM at their Augsburg, Germany, mill before being shipped to the journal's long-time U.S. printers, Brown Printing Company in Waseca, Minnesota.
Brown was awarded Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chain-of-custody certification for all three of its print locations in the United States in 2007. FSC certification ensures that the paper products used by Brown come from materials harvested in a forest managed according to a strict set of environmental standards.