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Why Are More American Students Taking Math & Science?

October 5, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Julie Ha thinks more high school classmates take advanced chemistry now because it’s more interesting.

But senior Gehoon Chung, who used to live in South Korea, thinks there’s a long way to go before American kids see advanced chemistry or calculus as ``cool.″

A study released Thursday found U.S. students are taking more math and science than 12 years ago. But they still are not close to meeting the goal set by the nation’s governors to be best in the world.

``Is it enough? No, it is not,″ said Gordon Ambach, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which conducted the study with the National Science Foundation. ``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, the study found.

Fifty-one percent of 1994 graduates had taken three years of high school science, compared to 32 percent in 1982.

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

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

Many students take harder classes now because their states have increased graduation requirements in the 12 years since the 1983 ``A Nation at Risk″ report, Ambach said.

But the role of parents’ expectations and students’ expectations can’t be overlooked, he added.

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

At McLean High School in Fairfax County, Va., where he now attends, that’s not the case, Chung said. ``That’s the biggest change.″

But Ha said her classmates also can be motivated through assignments 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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