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science education

This law could help states prioritize science education

An analysis of states reveals how ESSA could offer more flexibility when it comes to science education across all grades.

States have a new opportunity to emphasize science education and achievement–once largely ignored during the NCLB era–under new federal policies.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives states opportunities to create new educational goals and strategies, and states can set clear-cut goals for science achievement and leverage existing policies to meet those goals, according to a new brief from Achieve.

The brief takes a look at science education efforts in the 16 states, plus the District of the Columbia, that submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education during the first round of submissions in May 2017.

(Next page: Three areas where ESSA can help states prioritize science education)

Pro-science policies

Many states have proposed including science assessment results as an Academic Achievement indicator in their initial state ESSA plans, but just two states–Michigan and Tennessee–have set clear achievement goals around science, according to the report. (The report notes that other states could have science or STEM goals outside of ESSA, but this analysis is limited to ESSA plans.)

Michigan’s goal is to have 75 percent of schools and 75 percent of student subgroups meet the 2016-2017 statewide proficiency rates at the 75th percentile in science by the end of the 2024-2025 school year. Tennessee has included science goals in its plan relative to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) performance and on the state’s science assessments. The goal is to rank in the top half of states on NAEP by 2019.

Of the 16 states and the District of Columbia that have submitted ESSA plans, 10 are including science in their accountability system. Five additional states said they plan to incorporate science indicators in future years.


Science assessment is different from ELA and mathematics assessments, and the administration of science assessments can vary from state to state.
Unlike ELA and mathematics assessments, which must be administered every year in grades 3–8 and once in high school (defined as grades 10–12), science assessments must only be administered once per grade band: 3–5, 6–9, and 10–12. This means states administer assessments in different grades throughout elementary and middle school, and they have additional leeway to administer either end-of-course assessments or comprehensive assessments in high school, according to the report.

In grades 3–8, 6 states test students more than once per grade band: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Utah. Four of these states test grades 3–8 while the remaining two, South Carolina and Utah, test in grades 4–8. Arkansas also administers an assessment in grade 9.

In high school, 24 states and the District of Columbia administer end-of-course assessments in science. The other half of states administer a comprehensive assessment either in grade 10 or 11, or sometimes in both grades.

Of the states administering an end-of-course exam, 16 states and the District of Columbia are offering only one assessment in biology. Eight states offer multiple end-of-course exams. Of these eight states, the most common end-of-course exam is biology, followed by chemistry.


States have articulated a need to increase student interest and engagement in STEM, and are trying to focus resources to that end, according to the report.

Equity is another priority area, as several states are focusing resources on closing longstanding gaps in access and achievement within the STEM fields. States are providing extensive opportunities to teachers for professional learning to increase innovative practices and to embed STEM principles in instruction.

• Colorado will allow districts to apply for Title IV, Part A funds to support STEM programs and to provide professional learning on the use of technology to enable teachers to increase student achievement in STEM areas.
• Louisiana’s ESSA plan specifies Title I funds will support, in part, career and technical education courses and advanced courses such as dual enrollment. The plan also suggests districts could use Title IV, Part B funds to support an afterschool STEM program.
• Maine designed a Title II-funded project to build the capacity of teacher leaders in formative assessment and three-dimensional instruction in science so that they may, in turn, facilitate their students’ conceptual understanding and deep learning.
• Michigan intends to use Title IV, Part A funds to support professional development for STEM including coding and game design, professional development on how to embed STEM, specifically engineering design principles, computational thinking, and app design, in other content areas.
• Nevada will provide Title IV, Part A funds to support districts to provide equitable access to coursework, including science and engineering, for underrepresented student populations.
• North Dakota will allow Title IV, Part A funds to support districts that develop a comprehensive, innovative learning plan that demonstrates innovative practices and increases rigorous learning for students using STEM and STEAM strategies.
• Oregon and Tennessee intend to use Title IV, Part A funds to support district programming to improve instruction and student engagement in STEM, including computer science, and increasing access to these subjects for underrepresented groups.

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