Increasingly, nations need a skilled, knowledgeable workforce and a citizenry equipped to function in a complex world. Competent workers and citizens, in turn, need a sound understanding of science and mathematics; elementary and secondary schools are responsible for ensuring that they acquire this knowledge. Yet in the United States in recent decades, few parents, policymakers, legislators, or educators have been satisfied with student achievement in mathematics and science. This dissatisfaction has spawned numerous efforts to reform and improve schools.
Twenty years have passed since A Nation At Risk urged higher academic standards, better teacher preparation, and greater accountability for schools as ways of improving student achievement (National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983). Other reports and commissions subsequently set ambitious goals, among them that U.S. students would rank “first in the world in mathematics and science achievement by the year 2000” (U.S. Department of Education 1989). When 2000 arrived, another national commission concluded that U.S. students were “devastatingly far from this goal” (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century 2000).
Seeking to give school reform efforts new momentum, the Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 introduced strong accountability measures for schools, requiring them to demonstrate progress in boosting student achievement. (This act became law in 2002.) The act specifies steps that states must take and timelines for their implementation; these steps included immediate development of standards for mathematics and development of standards for science by academic year 2005. (Academic year 2005 refers to the school year that begins in fall 2005.) The NCLB Act also requires school districts to assess student performance every year in grades 3 through 8, beginning in academic year 2005 for mathematics and in academic year 2007 for science. Schools that do not demonstrate progress in improving achievement for all students will initially receive assistance, but they subsequently will be subject to sanctions if they still fail to show improvement.