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Originally published Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 3:05 PM

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Legislature must keep bar high on science education

Washington's students aren't at the bottom in science education but neither are schools preparing them for an economy ever more reliant on science, innovation and technology.

WASHINGTON'S students do not rank anywhere close to the bottom in science education but neither are they prepared for a future economy reliant on scientific innovation and technology.

Scores released this week from the National Assessment of Educational Progress confirm Washington students' grasp of basic concepts in physical, Earth, life and space sciences.

But basic is not good enough, fueling a call by Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn to delay until 2017 a looming requirement that students pass a science test to graduate.

No more delays.

Student performance is mixed. On the national assessment, fourth-graders had an average score in science comparable to the nation's fourth-graders. In eighth grade, the average score for this state's students was higher than the national average and more of Washington students scored at the proficient level than their counterparts nationwide.

Those dredging for optimism can find it in the test results. But they do not hold up well against heightened expectations. President Obama's call this week for 100,000 additional science and math teachers underscores the importance placed on science education in rekindling America's innovative energy.

While Washington students are faring well, they are measured against a low bar set by dismal national performances in science.

The Legislature should stick with the current plan to require students starting with the class of 2013 to meet new state standards in science or an alternative assessment in order to graduate.

Dorn raises important concerns but legislators should look not for a delay, but for a plan from the schools chief that revamps science curriculum and instruction and aligns them with assessments.

Science must be taught more often. A 2009 survey of fourth-grade teachers in Washington showed that 44 percent are teaching science less than two hours per week.

Student performance in science is not where it must be, but enough students showed basic skills on national and state assessments to warrant raising the bar. The Legislature must hold to its expectations and timelines.

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