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Education United States News Science

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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  • The death of logic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by snarfies ( 115214 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:59PM (#40372901) Homepage

    Noted sci-fi author John Barnes recently wrote something about this in his blog: http://thatjohnbarnes.blogspot.com/2012/06/hobo-queen-of-sciences.html [blogspot.com]

    tl;dr version (though its quite a good read, as his books that I have read so far): Girl in her class tried using angry pounding shouting as a debate tactic, and when asked about it, she declared it was "logic." "I was totally logical. I pointed things out real loud and told people they were dumb if they didn't believe it, and I yelled so they'd get the point."

    Yeah. Back in my day "Logic" was a little bird tweeting in the meadow, nowadays its "agrees with me."

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:00PM (#40372919) Homepage

    Multiple choice, standardized tests don't promote reasoning, just memorization.

    You're not kidding.

    I took a first year logic/critical reasoning class later in university because I still needed a first year credit and that sounded interesting.

    We were talking about confidence intervals ... and confidence interval of 0.05 meant you were 95% sure. On the exam, the question asked about a confidence interval of 0.5, which I answered as 50% sure.

    The professor marked it wrong, and said that since we'd only covered 0.05 in class, it was a typo -- nobody was expected to know about 0.5. I told her that since it was a class on critical reasoning, she was an idiot and demanded she mark my correct answer as correct. I had to go to the department head to get her to do it.

    When the teachers can't follow reasoning, how the hell are they supposed to teach it? In this case, she was expecting blindly repeating the example from class, not doing any thinking (even though as written all of the people she marked right couldn't have been).

  • by Anon-Admin ( 443764 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:01PM (#40372933) Journal

    But you are assuming that a government run school wants to produce students who can think critically.

    If they did, then these people may actually ask the hard questions. "Why are you in office if all you do is lie to the public, cheat to get ahead, and steal from the public coffers?", "Why is the drug scheduling system based on "Potential for abuse" and not "Danger to the health of the individual?", "How can you violate the 4th amendment to the constitution by passing security acts and not amending the constitution?"

    See, they don't want people who can think. They want people who will shut up and do what they are told.

    This from someone who's daughter asked the hard questions in school about drug policy. Thus he was visited by the police to discuss it in detail. (Not a drug user but the mere argument was enough to get them to stop by for a chat.)

  • by __aaeihw9960 ( 2531696 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @02:14PM (#40373123)

    Do you know why they teach to the lowest common denominator?

    Let me tell you a story that happened just this year:

    We have an autistic student in the grade directly below the one I teach. Low-functioning, highly aggressive and combative, generally a disruptive force in the classroom. When we present the principal, then superintendent, then school board with evidence, research and suggestions, they all agree that he needs to be in a self-contained classroom. Realistically, what this kid is getting != what he's taking away from every other student during the day. So, we call a meeting with the parents, special needs advocate and a ROE representative just to cover all of our bases. What do the parents also bring to the meeting? A lawyer. A lawyer from ~ 600 miles away from the nearest urban center (yes, the words big city lawyer come to mind). Why? Because if we pulled their child away from his friends (he has none), then they would sue fast, sue hard, and sue often.

    In this day of reduced spending, teachers being paraded around like well, like someone that's paraded around for public scorn, what choice did we have?

    Realistically, the other 25 sets of parents should be able to say, "no, you assholes, your child does not get to sap mine." BUT, because we can't tell anyone about what specifically transpired in these meetings using names and what-not, no one knows. All they know is that there are 25 little kids that already hate school, because of one precious little snowflake.

  • Re:No suprise there (Score:5, Interesting)

    by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:27PM (#40374425) Homepage

    Broader than that: Humans struggle with reasoning skills.

    I would suggest that your comment indirectly implies an important root of the problem. Many in the social sciences attempt to study human society as if it were an ant colony, from a distance, as if the observer is separate from the observed. As we look at human beings and their foibles and faults, we seem to be led to the conclusion that humans are nothing like what we would wish. We don't seem to be rational. We often don't seem to be moral. We in fact seem to be rather despicable creatures. Leaving it at that, we are tempted to throw up our arms and say "to hell with humans, we are beyond help". All our idealism, our attempts to be rational, to be good seem hopeless and futile.

    However I would like to take this further. Humans tend to be irrational. Humans tend to be selfish evil creatures. Our natural tendencies imply that we must try harder to overcome them. Because we tend to fall into irrationality, we must fight to be rational. Because we tend to be selfish and shallow means that we must try our best to nurture "the better angels in our nature". We will never "win" this battle. We will never vanquish evil and selfishness. But if we try, maybe, just maybe we can make our civilisation into a system that gives most of us a better and more fulfilling life.

  • Re:No suprise there (Score:5, Interesting)

    by internerdj ( 1319281 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @03:48PM (#40374809)
    Interestingly enough, the study separates Catholic schools from other private schools. I didn't see a reference to grade 12, but at grades 4 and 8 Catholic schooled children outperform publicly schooled children and are on par with privately schooled children. I don't know the statistics about how many Catholic schooled children grow up to be active Catholics; it seems like you have a better shot of being good at reason if you are trained by them.
  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @04:38PM (#40375699) Journal

    Case in point: scientists mentioned above believe that not being able to test 9 discrete choices with only the capacity to test 6 discrete choices is somehow a failure. Sure, you could test a few choices and extrapolate what the results of the missing choices might be, but you can't conclusively determine something you haven't tested.

    It's not obvious from the interface they give, but you can do it given a few (true) assumptions. The key thing is to note that you can do multiple experiments as long as the total is only 6 trays. The assumptions are that
    1) There is only one optimum fertilizer value, and it's one of the testable values
    2) If you're off by one, plants will grow better than if you're off by more than one.

    Given this, you just test 2,4,6, and 8. If one seems best, test the values on either side of it and pick the best of the three. If two seem equally good, you know the answer is between the two (but test it anyway).

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.