A recent study by Mingus Union High School administration showed Cottonwood Middle School students passed the science portion of the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test at a much higher rate than MUHS students.
However, the comparison fails to paint a clear picture, according to Cade Densmore, head of the MUHS science department.
A report by MUHS Principal Tamara Addis showed 61 percent of CMS eighth-grade students passed the science portion of the 2010 AIMS test compared to 39 percent of MUHS tenth-grade students.
Densmore responded to Addis’ report at the district’s Dec. 9 board meeting with a report of his own, showing MUHS sophomores passed the science portion of the AIMS test at a rate 10 percent higher than the average rate of sophomores statewide.
“Over the past three years the data indicate the CMS students did pass at a higher rate compared to Mingus; however, they averaged only 0.67 percent higher than the same cohort across the state while Mingus students averaged 10 percent better than their peers statewide,” Densmore told the board.
In addition, the science test for sophomores is different than the test for eighth-grade students, he said.
“Fundamentally, the core content of each test is completely different,” Densmore said during an interview after the meeting.
Life science, which emphasizes chemistry, comprises 13 percent of the test for eighth-graders but 46 percent, nearly half the exam, for sophomores, he said.
Furthermore, science curriculum at CMS is 30 percent physical science, which emphasizes biology. Curriculum at MUHS, however, currently includes no physical science, Densmore said.
The drop-off in scores is not the result of varying curriculum between middle school and high school, however.
The biggest obstacle to better scores in science on the AIMS may be its lack of importance to test takers. In terms of graduating from high school, the science portion of the exam doesn’t count, he said.
“We can’t make it mandatory. We can’t make kids care,” Densmore said. “We’re trying to focus on the things we can do.”
In his first year as department head, Densmore said the department is making sure all science courses are aligned to state standards and creating a flowchart that students can follow to take science classes in the proper sequence.
“We have restructured lab science skills curriculum to be sure that more freshmen receive an introduction to the material tested on the AIMS high school science exam by adding some life science content,” Densmore told the board.
The department will also conduct benchmark tests and standardized assessment tests before and after midterms to help develop improved core curriculum, which is scheduled to be introduced in the 2011-12 school year.
“The science department is not happy with the AIMS test scores over the past three years,” Densmore told the board. “Our goal since receiving the initial AIMS scores has been to improve.”