Sep. 29, 1999 Washington, DC -- Not one of the widely used science textbooks for middle school was rated satisfactory by Project 2061, the long-term science, mathematics, and technology education reform initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). And the new crop of texts that have just entered the market fared no better in the study.
The in-depth study found that most textbooks cover too many topics and don't develop any of them well. All texts include many classroom activities that are either irrelevant to learning key science ideas or don't help students relate what they are doing to the underlying ideas.
"Our students are lugging home heavy texts full of disconnected facts that neither educate nor motivate them," said Dr. George Nelson, Director of Project 2061,. "It's a credit to science teachers that their students are learning anything at all." No matter how "scientifically accurate" a text may be, Nelson continued, "if it doesn't provide teachers and students with the right kinds of help in understanding and applying important concepts, then it's not doing its job."
Nelson released the textbook evaluation on September 28 at the National Press Club which featured him as its "Morning Newsmaker."
The study, headed by Dr. Jo Ellen Roseman, Project 2061 Curriculum Director, examined how well textbooks for the middle grades can help students learn key ideas in earth science, life science, and physical science, drawn from AAAS's Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.
"This study probed beyond the usual superficial alignment by topic heading," Roseman said. "Instead, it examined the text's quality of instruction aimed specifically at the key ideas, using criteria drawn from the best available research about how students learn."
Each text was evaluated by two independent teams of middle school teachers, curriculum specialists, and professors of science education. The evaluation procedures were developed and tested over a period of three years in collaboration with more than 100 scientists, mathematicians, educators and curriculum developers, with funding from the National Science Foundation.
"This study confirms our worst fears about the materials used to educate our children in the critical middle grades," said Nelson. "Because textbooks are the backbone of classroom instruction, we must demand improvement so that our students can acquire the knowledge and skills they will need for more advanced learning in high school, college, and the workplace."
The study also looked at three stand-alone units that are not part of any textbooks. Developed at Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Education through research aimed at how students learn, the units rated much higher than the textbooks. "These encouraging results show that good science materials can indeed be developed," Roseman reported.
"Although Project 2061 does not write textbooks," Nelson explained, "our goal is to provide guidance for those who do. We plan to send detailed reports to the heads of science textbook divisions and invite them to discuss the findings with us. Project 2061 hopes the reviews will not only guide textbook development in the future but will also be valuable for middle school teachers today. We understand that these negative evaluations will be disturbing for schools using these texts, but teachers should be able to use the explanations in the full reports to start looking for ways to compensate for the text's shortcomings."
This is the second in a series of Project 2061 textbook evaluations, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The evaluation of middle grades mathematics texts, released in January 1999, rated several texts high, but these texts are not yet widely used. As a result of Project 2061's evaluation, a number of school districts are now considering these highly rated math texts for adoption. Project 2061 will release its findings for high school algebra and biology textbooks next year and is seeking funds to examine elementary school materials and to update the middle- and high-school materials evaluation.
Project 2061 has been working since 1985 to improve science, mathematics, and technology education for all students. Its 1993 publication Benchmarks for Science Literacy recommended specific learning goals for students at the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12 and provided the foundation for national and state science standards and frameworks. The project offers a variety of professional development programs for teachers and other educators.
A summary of the textbook evaluation will be posted on the Project 2061 web site at http://www.project2061.org . Full reports on each textbook will be available early next year.
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