The following letter was published in the Douglas County Sentinel on May 16th, 2019, in response to their story about multiple schools in Douglas County being granted a National Certification for Excellence in STEM Education. See the underlying data here.
The earning of a national certification for excellence in STEM education implies that science and math education is in good shape in Douglas County, and is thriving at Lithia Springs High School in particular. But a look at more objective metrics of STEM achievement in our schools suggests that there is reason to be alarmed at how well our students truly understand science and math. Districtwide, over each of the past three years, less than 30% of our high school students demonstrated proficiency in Math on state End-of-Course exams, signifying that over 70% will not graduate ‘college ready’ in Math. These results are even lower at Lithia Springs, where one would expect high levels of achievement at a STEM magnet that recently earned such a prestigious recognition. Yet, astonishingly, the failure rate on AP STEM exams in 2018 was 100% in Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, and Statistics, with most common score being the lowest possible of a 1. Just let this sink in: most of our AP students at our STEM magnet make the same exam score as a person would who knew nothing about the subject (but this doesn’t stop them from getting As in their courses!). We see such results there year after year.
Our county paid a tidy $12,500 to the National Institute of STEM Education for this certification, according to their website, and undoubtedly had to fill out a lot of paperwork to obtain the honor. But demonstrating excellence in student STEM achievement clearly was not a requirement. Surely there are some good science and math teachers employing some ‘best practices’ in the classroom, but as far as actual achievement in science and math goes, besides a solid science fair program, our school system’s STEM education may be better described as dismal, not excellent.