St. Louis students lacking in science proficiency

The St. Louis region aims to become a great biotechnology hub, attracting businesses and industry from all over the country. If that dream is to become a reality, the region needs people highly skilled in mathematics and science.

A research project by the Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning (CISTL) at WUSTL suggests human resources in science may not be coming from local school districts unless significant investment is forthcoming.

William Tate
William Tate

In an analysis of Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) science test scores from 30 local school districts, researchers found that scores in science proficiency were lacking by the time students reached 10th grade.

“It’s common for progressive cities like St. Louis to want to become the next biotechnology or telecommunications hub,” said William Tate, Ph.D., the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences, chair of the Department of Education in Arts & Sciences and director of the St. Louis Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning.

“But what often goes unexamined is how the human resource development strategy aligns with economic goals. It is vitally important to the entire St. Louis region that we support the learning of science and mathematics in our school districts.”

The project, led by Mark Hogrebe, Ph.D., research statistician at CISTL, examined 2000-05 MAP science data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for third-, seventh- and 10th-grade students in districts throughout the St. Louis area.

The MAP science test assesses eight content areas: matter and energy, force and motion, living organisms, ecology, earth processes, universe, scientific inquiry, and science and technology.

In third grade, nearly 49 percent of students were at the “Proficient” or “Advanced” levels. By seventh grade, the average percentage of students at those levels was 14.1, and by 10th grade it had dropped to 6.6 percent.

“Obviously, we’re not doing well,” Tate said.

He plans for CISTL and the WUSTL Department of Education to become a hub for the collection and analysis of educational attainment and related indicators on local school districts, with future data collection planned for mathematics, communication and arts performance indicators.

“The data is out there, but no one really talks about it,” Tate said. “It’s not being analyzed or discussed or stimulating any conversations.

“I think this research shows that we have a long way to go if we want to populate our planned biotech hub with local talent.”

Knowing the science attainment of students is incredibly important for understanding how students are being prepared for science-related course work in college, Tate said.

“Students who score better in high-school science are more likely to explore a science major in college,” he said. “Graduates proficient in science are critical if our region is going to compete for jobs in science- and technology-driven industries.”