STEM Education in Douglas County Anything but Excellent

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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.

Dear Editor,

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.

 Regards,

Jeremy Noonan

3 thoughts on “STEM Education in Douglas County Anything but Excellent

  1. STEM says:

    So, is the purpose of STEM to excel on AP tests and continue to relentless and stupid practice of standardized testing to judge students? Or is it to promote creativity, exploration, and critical thinking skills in the scientific process? ( a part that is lacking in my opinion from academics these days. I have a child that has been through STEM and one in it and I am a scientist and I appreciate the opportunity given to these students to code, problem solve, experience things that nobody ever does inn 4th and 5th grade and beyond. If you want to judge only on AP testing, you don’t understand science nor the exploration process, for that I am sad for you. Let the kids learn and explore outside the bounds or AP tests.
    Thanks
    Concerned citizen and scientist
    Thanks

    Like

    • freedom_educator says:

      No, it’s not the main purpose. Factual knowledge and theoretical understanding is important, and that’s what a good test can show. But it’s not all there is. Being able to conduct research well, for example, or design skillfully, is a far more important goal, but doing these well requires a deep knowledge base. So does it have to be an either/or? Being a good lawyer requires far more than passing the bar exam, but I’m not going to hire a lawyer who can’t pass the exam! I’d love to see some evidence that Douglas County schools are doing a great job raising up lots of kids with real science and engineering knowledge in spite of their low test scores.

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  2. freedom_educator says:

    I’ll add that’s a very thoughtful comment and I appreciate you taking time to express your opinion. We want our students doing far more than making good test scores and we want them graduating with some of the intangibles needed to actually contribute to science and engineering, but to do so requires many more years of STEM education, and success in advanced STEM education requires mastery of the fundamentals, which AP exams assess well.

    Like

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