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Why Are More American Students Taking Math & Science?

October 6, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ American high school students take significantly more math and science classes than teen-agers did a decade ago but are still far from reaching the goal set by the nation’s governors to be best in the world, a study found.

``Is it enough?″ asked Gordon Ambach, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which conducted the study with the National Science Foundation. ``No, it is not. We still have great distances to go in terms of student motivation, course-taking, opportunities and resources.″

Sixty percent of students who graduated from high school in 1994 had taken three years of high school math, compared to just 37 percent of 1982 graduates, according to the study, released Thursday.

And 51 percent of 1994 graduates had taken three years of high school science, compared to 32 percent in 1982.

The more rigorous classes are pushing up students’ math and science performance, said Larry Suter of the National Science Foundation, citing data released this summer by the Education Department.

Between 1982 and 1992, scores received by 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress increased nine points in math and 11 points in science _ equivalent to a year’s schooling, the Education Department said.

Students are taking the harder classes, in part, because many states have increased graduation requirements in the 12 years since the 1983 ``A Nation at Risk″ education report, Ambach said.

But the roles of parents’ and students’ expectations should not be overlooked, he added.

In South Korea, where high school senior Gehoon Chung attended school until last year, ``The students who do well in math and science _ they’re heroes. They’re cool guys.″

But at McLean High School in Fairfax County, Va., which he now attends, doing well in math isn’t so cool, Chung said. ``That’s the biggest change.″

One of his classmates, senior Julie Ha, thinks students also can be motivated if teachers work to make lessons exciting and relevant to their lives.

More students at McLean took an advanced placement chemistry class this year than ever before, she said.

``It’s the hands-on _ the labs _ that they like,″ she said. ```It’s more applying stuff than just memorizing.″

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