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U.S. Students Struggle With Reasoning Skills 488

sciencehabit writes "The first-ever use of interactive computer tasks on a national science assessment suggests that most U.S. students struggle with the reasoning skills needed to investigate multiple variables, make strategic decisions, and explain experimental results. The results (PDF) are part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress that was given in 2009 to a representative sample of students in grades four, eight, and 12. What the vast majority of students can do, the data show, is make straightforward analyses. More than three-quarters of fourth grade students, for example, could determine which plants were sun-loving and which preferred the shade when using a simulated greenhouse to determine the ideal amount of sunlight for the growth of mystery plants. When asked about the ideal fertilizer levels for plant growth, however, only one-third of the students were able to perform the required experiment, which featured nine possible fertilizer levels and only six trays. Fewer than half the students were able to use supporting evidence to write an accurate explanation of the results. Similar patterns emerged for students in grades 8 and 12."
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U.S. Students Struggle With Reasoning Skills

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  • No suprise there (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:44PM (#40372659) Journal

    US adults struggle with reasoning skills too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:46PM (#40372673)
    It seems to be particularly prevalent in the US House of Representatives and the Catholic Church.
  • by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:48PM (#40372691)

    I ain't paid to reason, I paid to go to meetin's.

  • by djlemma ( 1053860 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:49PM (#40372705)
    The headline implies that US students have more difficulty with reasoning skills than other students as a whole, or that this difficulty is unique to students from the US. I could easily imagine that these skills are lacking for students around the globe...
  • by sandytaru ( 1158959 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:49PM (#40372713) Journal
    -- instead of teaching them how to actually think.
  • Congratulations (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:49PM (#40372715)

    After billions of dollars we have produced an education system churning out children that cannot think for themselves.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:49PM (#40372721)

    Broader than that: Humans struggle with reasoning skills.

  • by Lucas123 ( 935744 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:51PM (#40372741) Homepage
    Multiple choice, standardized tests don't promote reasoning, just memorization. It's time we revamp the education system and our testing methods. Let's focus on students completing lengthy projects and being graded on their success.
  • by thepike ( 1781582 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:55PM (#40372815)

    Agreed, I'd like to see the scores from other countries.

    Also, I'd like to see this with adults in different professions. For instance, are scientists better at this than artists? And what about creativity scores?

    My gut says that a) all children will probably not be great at this and b) adults probably aren't either. And sadly it probably doesn't match up as well with profession as we might like. I'm a molecular biologist and plenty of my colleagues would probably struggle with these tasks. I wish I could take the test to see how I do (but I'm also afraid I would fail miserably).

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:55PM (#40372825)

    Why did that surprise you?
    Teachers are doing a job. If that job is evaluated based on standardized tests, they will make sure that job is done well.

    Do you not work for income? Would you not focus on the parts of your job that are actually evaluated?

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:58PM (#40372863) Journal

    No one wants us to be able to think for ourselves. Not the corporations, nor the Government. People that are able to reason, and think for themselves, see the bullshit that is going on, and will call it out. Unfortunately, the bullshit runs this country and the corporations.

    Or you're like me, able to reason and so tired of how stupid most everyone else is, that you gave up and just going to watch the world go to hell.

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:00PM (#40372917) Journal

    Kids live in a world even more arbitrary and capricious than that of adults. This is especially true in primary and secondary school. Why, then, would they develop reasoning skills? Those that do end up challenging authority and getting arbitrarily slapped down, so there's negative incentives as well as a lack of positive ones.

  • Teach Logic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:03PM (#40372955) Homepage

    I'm coming around to the opinion that we've got to teach logic at a very young age, as was done in classical education. Ultimately it's the foundation to all of math and the scientific method. If the first time you study basic logic is in college, then your entire education is built on shifting sand.

  • No more metrics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:06PM (#40372995) Journal

    Everyone hear on slashdot probably worked for an employer who utilized these and quality went down everytime where job performance was measured. Every MBA and even undergrad taking business management courses knows that quality always sufers when metrics are used inappropriately as game theory dictates that everyone's goal is to keep ones' job. Not help the company out. So if someone figures out a way to reduce inventory to save costs the VP of manufactoring has a hissy fit as his metrics suffer on amount of units he stores and he gets a write up etc.

    Worse, studies show in business management courses like "Good to Great" that when companies do this it is because their employees suck. Putting in new management metrics makes it suck more, not make bad employees turn into good employees.

    Some moron thought it was a great idea since the private sector uses these and included it in education. There are so many reasons why these tests should not used as metrics. It is insulting to the teachers too (my ex was a teacher) as they do not even set the cirriculumn used. Basically they are handed down a copy of the test in points and decimals increments how they test per objective. 12.3 "Student shows adaquite code switching in communication, by utilizing a,b, and c etc". So on October 19th at percisely 10am - 10:53 they are handed worksheets and drilled over and over again.

    Code switching is a fancy teaching term in comprehending a concept through verbal steps given and those terms are in by academic elitist in the teaching system (yes they are in teaching too and not just in computer science).

    What they need to do is track per student tests year after year (OMG high tax payer costs!!)so teachers who teach inner city schools or those who teach all Mexicans (common where my wife taught in Southern California) do not become penalized. Also special ed teachers are getting a bad rap for poor test scores and many are being showed the door before tenure. The bad teachers who are tenured are unfirable in contrast to the good teachers. They also need to bust the teacher unions so they can fire bad teachers but teachers are not judged whether on language scores where they have only 2 native speaking english students per classroom like in Texas, Arizona, and California. Also kicking out the bad bottom 10% of students and forcing them to work minimium wage jobs would be a great thing too! They do not want to be there and they just irritate and disrespect teachers and hurt other students who want to learn. In China if you act like that and yell in class, make fun of the teacher, and cut class they will take you out in 8th grade and make you work in a factory. That is why their test scores are so damn high.

    Compulsive education, no per student test scores, and test metrics as the only measurement sound like very poor management techniques.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:24PM (#40373285)

    Americans are dumb, nothing new...

    Interesting. I have traveled the world and GASP! there are dumb people everywhere. So it takes a truly breathtaking leap of brilliance to identify a single group, such as Americans, and label them all dumb. You must be the star of your country. You must win all the spelling bees and math competitions. Women get moist when you walk into a room.

    Fucking moron.

  • by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:28PM (#40373357)

    I see a lot of comments about "schools don't teach you to think anymore." On the other hand, you can't reason the right answers out if you have the wrong basis (facts, memorization, etc.). It's like saying that elementary school math doesn't teach you how to solve large multiplication problems anymore, they just teach times tables! ... but it's hard to do a multiplication problem without knowing what 6 * 8 is off the top of your head. Memorization of some things is extremely important to reasoning skills.

    I also wonder if it has to do with books. Reading is out, other forms of media is in. Visual media doesn't make you think a whole lot. Even adults that do think can watch a movie, totally zone out and entirely ignore how things are presented, what views the movie is expressing (if any), whether or not it's realistic in any way, etc. Some movies push you to think; most, though, push people to turn off their brains.

    And since visual media (games, TV, movies, etc) are getting more and more prevalent ... I wonder if the lack of reasoning and thinking is related to the lack of necessity of imagination that is stimulated through reading books?

  • by Korin43 ( 881732 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:29PM (#40373369) Homepage

    Reasoning is required to be a scientist.

    It may be required to be a good scientist, but not to get a job as one.

  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:31PM (#40373423)

    I just have to ask, is it really reasonable to assume that everyone should have great analytical skills? The study says that about one third of the students had the necessary reasoning skills. This sounds about right to me. Most people are not very analytical. This is why professions that require good analytical skills (medicine, engineering, law, etc.) tend to pay good wages.

    Anyway, this study would be more interesting if we could compare current results with results from the past, or results in other countries. As it is, it's about as interesting as saying, "One third of students were over five feet tall." Without some sort of context to put that in, we can only speculate on its significance.

  • by djlemma ( 1053860 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:31PM (#40373427)
    I never presented any evidence, my point was that the study never collected any data about other countries in the first place. Thus, I don't approve of using a wording that singles out the US as being inferior somehow, when there's really not data (in this study) that implies any such thing. The article also mentions that they hadn't collected this particular data before, so they can't even compare to how US students did 10 years ago, or 5 years ago, or any such thing.

    Also, judging by the article, the announcement seemed to boil down to "Students have an easy time with easy questions, but a harder time with hard questions."
  • Big surprise? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kaz Kylheku ( 1484 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:34PM (#40373447) Homepage

    Most people are not going to become scientists. At the elementary school level, people are not yet pre-selected for thinking roles; you're looking at basically a more or less random sample of the population.

    Out of a thousand elementary school kids, how many will become scientists, engineers, etc?

    Now if, say, third year engineering students across the USA are were found to be struggling with reasoning skills, oops, that would be troubling news.

    Unfortunately for those kids who are struggling with reasoning, though, a lot of the kinds of jobs that they might have easily gone into after high school fifty years ago are now overseas.

  • by BetterSense ( 1398915 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:36PM (#40373489)
    I still remember getting this one wrong in grade school:

    How many 'states of matter' are there?
    a) 1
    b) 2
    c) 3
    d) 4

    I would answer 4--Solid, Liquid, Gas, Plasma--because I read books. But we weren't expected to know about plasma, so the correct answer was always 3, and I was marked wrong. The teachers never gave me credit, because I don't think they knew what a plasma was either.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:36PM (#40373503)

    Ok Lets blame the Right, they are anti-science.
    Or lets blame the Left, they make kids think if they don't have million dollar facilities they cannot learn anything, they don't try to learn.
    Both sides are well over generalizing.

    The problem isn't Left Politics, Right Politics, or Religion. It is a culture that is seems to allow people to progress with poor reasoning. Tests are not about reasoning, but knowing the information. Today we can get facts very fast. Much faster then any time in history... Unfortunately that means we are spending less time rebuilding the wheel to find things that facts already have told us.

    This is more then just Science, but normal real life things... Imagine buying a TV from a store without Internet based reviews. You had to go with past experience to realize if that brand is considered a good brand or a bad one. So that Sony Walk Man was really good quality you would most likely get the Sony TV. You knew a person with an RCA and the picture quality was bad, you wouldn't get an RCA, or you see all his neighbors with different TVs all had bad pictures so it was the area, so you may choose the RCA...

  • by Barsteward ( 969998 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:37PM (#40373513)
    Add deists to that list
  • Maybe these 4th graders would perform better if someone simply SHOWED them how to determine which of 6 fertilizers is better. Maybe a class called "Lab" would be appropriate to fix this deficiency.

    Yes... because after that, they would know exactly how to determine which of those 6 fertilizers is better in each of those lighting situations.

    Really... I was frustrated with this back when I was in grade 4; teachers encouraged learning specific processes to solve specific problems, and most kids couldn't figure out what to do when stuck in an unfamiliar situation. This wasn't all that surprising, considering grade 4 is about the age where this kind of reasoning ability starts to develop, given a favourable development environment. I remember struggling with basic maths in grade 4, but having no difficulties (other than mathematical errors) completing the problem solving steps. I went socratic on my classmates who didn't have a clue where to begin.

    Maybe these 4th graders would perform better if someone simply SHOWED them how to question the steps of the process, and ask about parts they didn't understand, instead of pretending they already knew everything about it that was worth their time understanding and focus instead on getting the "winning answer". And yes, s/4th graders/humanity/.

  • by ZonkerWilliam ( 953437 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:47PM (#40373707) Journal

    Tests are not about reasoning, but knowing the information.

    I believe you have it, a lot of the youths I talk to rely on facts and do not try to "figure" it out on their own.

    I think it's the biggest danger for youth today, this prevents them from going into the sciences or engineering.

  • by Mike Buddha ( 10734 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:50PM (#40373765)

    It's fascinating to see this poor reasoning played out on this very forum right now, right before our very eyes.

  • Overly critical. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:54PM (#40373833)

    Anyone who thinks American students are bad with reasoning obviously hasn't spent much time outside the country. Those people haven't seen anything, especially Asia. And the problem isn't just reasoning skills, it's simply entertaining your own opinion as opposed to trying to please a superior. I've been in situations where an employee was asked what they thought about something and they'd sheepishly avoid the answer. Even when pressed they seemed unable to come up with a response. Lack of creative and independent thinking continues to be a problem, even in Japan.

    That said, I think America is moving too far in the opposite direction. Sometimes rote memorization essential. And you need standardized tests to glean some sort of progress. They might not be perfect, but there's no better alternative.

    The fact of the matter is that you need the fundamentals before you can progress. It's similar to artistic technique. Too many people hide behind the label of modern art to excuse their lack of talent. In order to have flexibility you need underlying ability. It's essentially the same principle here. And the fact is that kids don't necessarily have the knack for reasoning that people acquire with age. So why waste excessive amounts of energy trying to drill that into them?

    But certainly, Americans have the ability to think independently and creatively. And I find them to generally be better informed and less prone to falling for myths, urban legends and other such nonsense. I'll concede, it could be the part of the country where I live. But overseas and amongst immigrants I've found that the consensus is that the US has the best educational system in the world.

  • Christian country (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sir-gold ( 949031 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:37PM (#40374617)

    It is no wonder that we have a lack of reasoning skills when we have a popular religion that instructs us NOT to reason, and to simply accept things the way they are without question.

    Having children who can properly think and reason leads to uncomfortable questions like : "why are there no dinosaurs in the bible?" or "how can the entire earth flood in only a few days?" or "where did Noah store all that food?"

    In other words, The US is full of stupid people, because their religion tells them to be stupid

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"