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IS UTAH FLUNKING MATH, SCIENCE?

A recently released study by the National Science Foundation seemingly gives Utah low grades in math and science education. But these ugly warts are not the full face of public schooling in Utah.

The bad news is that Utah ranked either at or near the bottom nationally in several key categories, including high school science teachers with college science degrees, high school math teachers with college math degrees and the number of hours per week elementary school students spend on science.The good news is that Utah education leaders have been well aware of these and other problems for quite some time now and are working to remedy them, a fact not entirely reflected in the new study.

Five years ago state officials discovered that many of Utah's math teachers had not majored or minored in mathematics in college. Since then, almost all of the teachers have been endorsed by the state's certification process. This process, in the estimation of the State Office of Education, is as meaningful as a college degree in math or science.

Other reforms also have been under way. Colleen Blankenship, dean of the University of Utah's graduate college of education, points to intensive in-service seminars sponsored by U. faculty for math and science teachers. Likewise, David Nelson, testing specialist in the State Office of Education, says counselors and guidance people are talking more frequently and more pointedly to students about the importance of science and math.

Education leaders also point to Utah's statewide testing scores, showing students in grades five, eight and 11 earning higher marks in math and science than the average of their counterparts across the country.

Besides, the new study by the National Science Foundation had plenty of nice things to say about this state. Utah ranked high in the percentage of high school graduates having taken Algebra 2 and the percentage of high school graduates having taken calculus. And Utah was slightly higher in several other categories, including the percentage of high school students having taken Algebra 1 and the hours per week elementary school students spend in math.

In effect, the new study presents Utah with a report card that need not discourage Utah teachers and students but should be used as an inducement to continued improvement.