- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush wants schools to face consequences for falling short in science, just as they do in reading and math.

A proposal by Mr. Bush would require schools to make yearly progress in science, adding a third high-stakes subject to the No Child Left Behind Act, which has thousands of schools scrambling to meet federal goals.

Congressional leaders say they are willing to consider the president’s idea when the law comes up for renewal next year, but that is as far as they will commit.

Science already is part of the law. Starting in the 2007-08 school year, states are required to test students’ science knowledge at least once in elementary, middle and high school. But nothing in the law holds schools accountable for science scores.

Mr. Bush wants to change that by applying a system of penalties for schools whose students do not improve their grasp of science. Such a move would affect millions of students nationwide.

“Given our philosophy that what gets measured gets done, this would be a natural way to emphasize the importance of science,” Assistant Education Secretary Tom Luce said. “We do think it’s important to have consequences.”

In reading and math, those consequences have made the yearly test scores a huge priority. Schools that receive federal poverty aid and miss one academic target face penalties that get tougher each year — from letting students transfer to firing employees.

The same could apply in science.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has an open mind about requiring schools to show gains in science, spokesman Steve Forde said.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wants input from people affected by the law, including parents and teachers who say children are tested enough. “I don’t think we’re close to making a decision,” said his spokesman, Craig Orfield.

Democrats who helped Mr. Bush pass No Child Left Behind in 2001 also have offered wait-and-see responses.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, is not opposed to adding science to how schools are judged, but a spokeswoman said Mr. Kennedy does not think the change should happen until states have a chance to get high-quality tests in place and more training for their teachers.

One clear supporter is Rep. Rush D. Holt. The New Jersey Democrat has pushed for judging schools on their science scores when testing begins.

“It is as important as reading and math,” Mr. Holt said. But he says Congress may balk because lawmakers are getting an earful about problems with the current law.

Among those problems is how progress is measured. Many educators don’t like the reliance on tests, or how missing one academic goal labels the whole school as “needing improvement.”

“Let’s get it right first. Then we can start talking about bringing on science or whatever subject they want to talk about,” said Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers.

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