Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government requires that high school students take one statewide standardized test in science. In Florida, that test is the Biology end of course examination. Yesterday, I argued that the Biology end of course examination should be replaced in Florida by the ACT Science Section, and in fact that the ACT should be Florida’s statewide standardized test for federal accountability purposes. The ACT is presently used this way by a dozen states, and its science section includes physical sciences, which are presently excluded from Florida’s high school testing program.
The plot below shows one reason why Florida should dispose of the Biology end of course exam and instead shift its high school science emphasis toward the physical and computer sciences – salaries.
According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, biology bachelors’ degree recipients actually earn less than the average for all degrees (not just all STEM degrees, but all degrees). Chemistry majors earn significantly more than both biology majors and the all-major average. Physics majors do considerably better – in fact physics is ranked 15th among all college majors in the Georgetown salary report. And of course, this ignores engineering, which dominates the Georgetown rankings (17 of the top 25 majors are engineering majors) and which is built on a foundation of physics. However, fewer than 25% of Florida students take physics in high school – a rate that is far below the national average of 39%.
Then there is computer science, which is the elephant in the STEM room. Computer science is 11th in the Georgetown salary rankings, but the demand for computer science graduates is astronomical. At least at FSU, two semesters of physics are required for a bachelor of science degree in computer science.
Does high school course-taking really matter in career decisions? Of course it does. A student who doesn’t take a high school physics course is not going to major in physics, and is quite unlikely to major in engineering (and is going to run into headwinds if she or he chooses to major in engineering despite the lack of high school physics).
So…Florida should adopt the ACT as its standardized high school test for accountability purposes. The need to shift the state from its high school science emphasis from life science to the physical sciences is just one reason to do so.