2015 TIMSS: Physics is the world’s capstone high school science course. It should be Florida’s as well.

The 2015 TIMSS results released yesterday were not big news.  What TIMSS told us about student achievement in math and science in elementary and middle school we already knew from the recent releases of 2015 NAEP results, both at the national and state levels.  The nation’s improvement has leveled off.  Florida, which was the only state that made the investment in TIMSS necessary to get separate results, is particularly distressed in middle school math.

The most important lesson from TIMSS for Florida is the one that is so obvious that everybody seems to have missed it.  In addition to the 4th and 8th grade math and science assessments, TIMSS included an “Advanced” component – an attempt to measure the readiness of high school graduates for college majors in science and engineering.  The only science subject addressed in TIMSS Advanced was physics.  Not biology.  Not chemistry.  It was physics.

Physics is the world’s capstone high school science course.  But it isn’t in Florida.  Florida’s high school physics enrollment rate is a bit more than half of the nation’s.  About a quarter of the engineering, chemistry and computer science majors I see in my intro calc-based studio physics course did not take a physics course in high school.  About half of the students in our algebra-based intro class – taken by life science majors – did not take high school physics.

As a result, Florida’s students struggle to compete with students from other parts of the nation and world.  Schools and districts in Florida should be offering their students high quality physics courses and then doing everything they can to coax their students to take them.


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