Midwest Prepares Students in Math and Science
When they announced the encouraging math and science test results for the state’s fourth- and eighth-graders— and the achievement gains that had been made over the past decade— Minnesota education officials were quick to point out that policy advances had been made since the mid-1990s as well.
Statewide academic standards in the two subject areas had been created and subsequently strengthened. As a result, officials say, students are getting taught more math and science in the classroom, with a more rigorous curriculum. (A team of scholars from Michigan State University helped Minnesota establish the standards.)
The state continues to revamp the math and science learning goals it sets for varying grade levels of students. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, standards are now being changed to include “a greater emphasis on college and work-readiness and technology use.”
Three years ago, too, the legislature passed a bill requiring students to complete Algebra I by the end of eighth grade and Algebra II before high school graduation. The legislation also requires high school graduates to have taken a physics or chemistry class.
Minnesota is not alone.
Across the Midwest, legislatures have changed state laws with an eye toward ensuring that students graduate with the academic skills—including in math and science—they need for college or the work force.
Last year, Nebraska passed legislation requiring statewide assessments, beginning in 2009, in reading, math and science. (The state had been operating under a unique, locally driven assessment system known as STARS.)
Also in 2008, Iowa lawmakers approved legislation that requires local school districts to follow a state-developed core curriculum, an instructional guide for the content that should be taught in subjects such as math and science.
High school graduation requirements, meanwhile, have been strengthened in recent years in states such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and South.
One common element of these changes is that students are expected take more—and more rigorous— math and science classes.
For instance, laws in Michigan and Ohio require four years of math, including Algebra II, and three years of science. The Ohio l specifies completion of three years of “inquiry-based laboratory science,” such as physics, chemistry and biology.
In Illinois, high school students must take one additional year of math and science each. In all, the ninth-graders must complete three years of math (one must be Algebra I and one must be geometry content) and two years of science.
Indiana’s CORE 40 graduation track requires students to take three years each of math (including two credits of Algebra II) and science (including biology and physics or chemistry).
Requirements for South Dakota’s graduation requirements include three years each of math (including Algebra II) and the lab sciences.
An alternative, less-stringent path to graduation also is offered in South Dakota. This type of opt-out provision has been common for states to include when adopting tougher graduation rules. Students who take this route, however, are sometimes precluded students from attending the state’s public universities.
During the current legislative session, North Dakota lawmakers are considering a new multi-tier system of graduation requirements in their state.
Under the leadership of Kansas Sen. Jay Emler, the Midwestern Legislative Conference will focus over the next year on state efforts to improve math and science education in K-12 schools.
The MLC, a nonpartisan association of all state legislators from this region, plans to issue a special report this summer on math and science education as well as hold policy sessions on this subject at its Annual Meeting in Overland Park, Kan. Its goal is to foster regional information-sharing and networking on how states can strengthen student learning and outcomes.
Emler, the 2009 MLC chair, has made math and science education the focus of his chair’s initiative. The MLC annual meeting will be held Aug. 9-12 in Overland Park, Kan. CSG Midwest provides staffing services to the MLC. More information is available at www.csgmidwest.org.
Read the full story on how Midwest states are revamping math and science education in the newly redesigned Firstline Midwest from The Council of State Governments’ Midwest region.