Math and Science: Where Elementary Schools Stand

A majority of elementary teachers indicate that the support they receive from their principal promotes effective mathematics and science instruction. But teachers regard state testing and accountability policies, on the other hand, as less supportive, according to a comprehensive study of U.S. K-12 science and mathematics education. 

The 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education is the fifth in a series of studies initiated in 1977 and funded by the National Science Foundation. For the study, conducted by Horizon Research and endorsed by NAESP, researchers collected data from a nationally representative sample of 1,900 K-5 teachers. Survey topics include teachers’ backgrounds and opinions, professional development participation, adequacy of resources, textbooks, instructional practices, and factors affecting instruction. 

The influence of testing—particularly on science—is evident in instructional time and teachers’ objectives. Only about 1 in 4 elementary students receives science instruction each day. (Mathematics is taught every day in elementary classrooms.) The typical elementary class spends about 20 minutes a day on science instruction, compared to 60 minutes on mathematics and 90 minutes on language arts. Elementary classes are much more likely to have an emphasis on test-taking skills in mathematics than in science (37 percent compared to 22 percent). Similarly, only 1 in 10 elementary classes stress memorizing vocabulary/facts in science, but almost half stress learning mathematical procedures and algorithms.

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