Chapter 1: Elementary and Secondary Education


Chapter Overview

Across the United States, states, schools, and students are now fully immersed in efforts to meet the educational accountability requirements set forth by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which took effect in 2002. NCLB requires the development of student performance standards and regular assessment of student learning. Schools that fail to show progress in improving achievement for all students receive assistance first, then sanctions. NCLB also emphasizes the importance of high-quality teaching and contains provisions encouraging states to see that teachers are adequately prepared for their teaching responsibilities.

States have already developed and published standards for mathematics achievement and were required to have standards for science in place by academic year 2005 (the school year that began in fall 2005). Beginning in academic year 2005, school districts must assess student mathematics performance yearly in grades 3 through 8. Beginning in academic year 2007, districts must assess student science performance once in elementary school and once in middle school. Over the next few years, the results of these assessments will provide new and important data about student performance in those crucial subjects.

Concern about the relationship of science and mathematics achievement to American global competitiveness, work-force preparation, and development of an educated citizenry continues to fuel efforts to improve student performance in those areas. This chapter draws on a variety of currently available data (mostly from 2000–04) to examine U.S. students' mathematics and science achievement; compare it with that of their international peers; and highlight developments, trends, and conditions influencing the quality of U.S. elementary and secondary mathematics and science education.

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Chapter Organization

The chapter begins by summarizing the most recent available data on U.S. student achievement, including new indicators not available for previous Science and Engineering Indicators editions about student performance in mathematics during the first 4 years of schooling and performance in science in third grade. It continues by examining U.S. student performance in mathematics and science in grades 4, 8, and 12, and describes student achievement from an international perspective. The chapter next examines the availability of and participation in mathematics and science courses, including Advanced Placement (AP) testing, and characteristics of schools and students affecting this participation.

Teachers play an important role in helping students meet high standards, so the chapter next devotes attention to data on mathematics and science teachers, including their academic background and experience, the match or mismatch between academic preparation and teaching assignments, participation in professional development activities, and salaries and working conditions. New indicators in this section include transcript data on the academic backgrounds of new college graduates who entered teaching, state policies on teacher professional development, attrition and mobility of mathematics and science teachers, and perceptions of school working conditions by those who change schools or leave the profession.

Information technology (IT) affects all levels of education, and states are increasingly requiring and encouraging teachers to become more proficient in using technology for instruction. The chapter next looks at indicators of student access to and use of IT at school and at home, and the preparation of teachers for using IT in instruction. New indicators in this section include teachers' preparation for using IT in instruction in the early primary grades, and the use of IT among third grade students.

Finally, the chapter examines data on high school students' transition to postsecondary education, first-time entry rates into postsecondary education in the United States relative to rates in other countries, and the extent of remedial education at the college level as an indicator of student preparation for college-level work. A new indicator is information on the length of remedial coursetaking among freshmen.

This chapter focuses primarily on overall patterns, but it also reports variation in access to educational resources by school poverty level and minority concentration, and in student performance by sex, race/ethnicity, and family background characteristics (when data are available). Whenever the report cites a difference, it is statistically significant at the .05 probability level.

National Science Board.