Two interesting news items on the education front. First, everyone had the headline yesterday about American school children's scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This nationally benchmarked test is equivalent from state to state and year to year, and so, unlike many state tests used for No Child Left Behind, it actually means something. And unfortunately, what it showed wasn't great. Despite the accountability movement and an increased emphasis on teaching basic reading and math skills, 4th grade math scores did not improve from 2007 to 2009. Eighth grade math scores were up slightly, which is good, but the improvements weren't large enough to call for celebrating in the streets. What is clear is that for all the complaints from some parents and teachers of kids being stressed out by constant testing, or the emphasis on math and reading crowding out the arts, music, recreation, etc., all of that is either an exaggeration, or if it's true, then it isn't working.
This, of course, raises the question of what does work to raise student achievement and build the skills necessary for later careers -- and brings me to an interesting idea coming out of India on the science front. According to this article from the Times of India, the National Council of Science Museums has decided to create 1,000 "school science centers" across the country. Sometimes located far from any science museum, these centers will involve professional scientists mentoring teachers on how to help students conduct experiments, and will try to emphasize the hands-on nature of science.
Of most interest to us at Gifted Exchange, though, according to the article, is that this push to train more students in scientific methods is not just about broadening access. It's about using this broad access to identify top talent for future nurturing. The chairman of NCSM said, "We will keep a database of gifted students and follow their career paths closely after school." Another person involved in the project said the students identified as scientifically adept by the school science centers would get an opportunity to "work at the grass-roots level and help the community in solving its problems."
I personally think this is a fascinating idea. We may be trying to upgrade American school children's skills these days, but for the most part, very little about the push to do more testing has involved using individual results to identify top talent and then do something with it. Wouldn't it be interesting if we replaced state-level NCLB tests with the NAEP (or an equivalent internationally benchmarked test) and then not only got aggregated results, but identified the top 1% of scorers on, say, the math section, for further talent development? Wouldn't it be great to do this in other subject areas, too?
For years, people have tried to do similar things with the out-of-level tests used in talent searches (e.g. the SAT for 7th and 8th graders), but as long time readers of Gifted Exchange know, the vast majority of schools do absolutely nothing with these results. Kids who can afford it can use their high SAT scores to go to summer camps at Northwestern, Johns Hopkins and elsewhere. But schools for the most part give kids a certificate or an awards ceremony (if that) and then stick them right back in their grade-level classes. No wonder we're worried about falling behind India on the math and science front.