The State of State Science Standards 2012


Report: State Science-Education Standards Jeopardize U.S. Competitiveness

Thomas B. Fordham Institute report released today finds that the K-12 science standards of most states remain mediocre to awful, placing America’s national competitiveness, technological prowess and scientific leadership in grave jeopardy.

Since the Sputnik launch of 1957, Americans have regarded science education as crucial to our national security and economic competitiveness. Just recently, a National Science Board report found that the U.S. could soon be overtaken as global leader in supporting science and technology, and advocates educational improvement as crucial to America maintaining its role as the world’s engine of scientific innovation. But The State of State Science Standards, which reviews and analyzes the guidelines that inform K-12 science curriculum and instruction in every state and the District of Columbia, concludes that what states presently expect of their schools in this critical subject is woefully inadequate.

In this comprehensive appraisal, more than 75 percent of states received grades of C or lower, and a majority received D’s or F’s. California and the District of Columbia earned the only straight As—while Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Virginia received A-‘s for their excellent state science standards. But most states lack rigorous, content-rich standards. Seven of them received B-level grades; 11 states received Cs; 17 states received Ds; and 10 states received failing F grades.


Leading science education experts authored this analysis, evaluating state science standards for their clarity, content completeness, and scientific correctness. Science standards are the foundation upon which a state’s system of assessment, instruction, and accountability rests. Therefore, this review analyzes the standards themselves to ensure that they’re clear, thorough, and academically demanding. It does not investigate whether science standards are being properly assessed with state tests, effectively implemented in the schools, or whether they are driving improvements in student achievement.

Shortcomings were many and diverse but there turned out to be four areas, in particular, where state science standards were flawed.

1. Although the treatment of evolution has improved since Fordham’s last assessment of state science standards in 2005, many states still miss the mark on teaching this vital topic. Anti-evolutionary pressures continue to threaten and weaken science standards in many jurisdictions.

2. A great many standards are so vague for educators as to be completely meaningless. Only 7 states earned full credit scores for clarity and specificity while 29 earned a one or zero out of three.

3. Science educators, curriculum developers, and standards writers have focused excessive attention on “inquiry based learning” — attempting to help students learn through “discovery” instead of direct instruction of specific content. In too many states, these inquiry standards are vague to the point of uselessness—depriving students of an education based on substantive scientific content.

4. Mathematics is essential to science, yet few states make this link between math and science clear—and many seem to go to great lengths to avoid mathematical formulae and equations altogether. Students cannot adequately learn physics and chemistry without understanding mathematical concepts and mastering quantitative operations.

As 26 states work with Achieve, Inc. to produce multi-state Next Generation Science Standards over the coming year, this report emphasizes both the urgency of their efforts and the stakes involved. Besides a commendable science-education “framework” from the National Research Council, they can look to the excellent standards already in use in several states as models. It’s no secret what good science standards look like. It’s a blight upon the United States, however, that such standards are guiding the schools and teachers in so few places today.”

The State of State Science Standards: Grades in Rank Order

(Explore all the state report cards in detail and see how your state performed.)

Read across:

Jurisdiction Grade, Total Score, Content and Rigor Score (out of 7)
Clarity and Specificity Score (out of 3)

California A 10 7 3
District of Columbia A 10 7 3
Indiana A- 9 6 3
Massachusetts A- 9 6 3
NAEP framework A- 9 7 2
South Carolina A- 9 6 3
Virginia A- 9 6 3
New York B+ 8 6 2
Arkansas B 7 5 2
Kansas B 7 5 2
Louisiana B 7 5 2
Maryland B 7 5 2
Ohio B 7 5 2
Utah B 7 5 2
Connecticut C 6 4 2
Georgia C 6 4 2
Michigan C 6 4 2
Missouri C 6 4 2
New Mexico C 6 4 2
Texas C 6 5 1
Washington C 6 3 3
Delaware C 5 3 2
Minnesota C 5 4 1
Mississippi C 5 4 1
Vermont C 5 3 2
Alabama D 4 3 1
Arizona D 4 3 1
Florida D 4 3 1
Hawaii D 4 3 1
Illinois D 4 3 1
Maine D 4 3 1
New Hampshire D 4 3 1
North Carolina D 4 3 1
Rhode Island D 4 2 2
Tennessee D 4 3 1
West Virginia D 4 3 1
Colorado D 3 2 1
Iowa D 3 2 1
Kentucky D 3 2 1
Nevada D 3 2 1
New Jersey D 3 2 1
Pennsylvania D 3 2 1
Alaska F 2 1 1
Idaho F 2 2 0
Nebraska F 2 1 1
Oklahoma F 2 1 1
Oregon F 2 1 1
South Dakota F 2 1 1
Wyoming F 2 2 0
Montana F 1 1 0
North Dakota F 1 1 0
Wisconsin F 0 0 0

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