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Iowa aims to improve students' knowledge of STEM subjects
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2012 15:52 PM

For K-12 students, courses related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects, are just as important as the classes they take in language or the arts. Altogether, the classes learners take throughout the school day play a vital role in molding them into well-rounded individuals who have the potential to thrive in their collegiate and professional careers.

However, in the U.S., many students are not doing as well as they could be in the STEM classes they take - something that troubles President Barack Obama, who understands how important a grounding in these academic areas can be.

"When students excel in math and science, they help America compete for the jobs and industries of the future," said Obama during the second White House Science Fair, which was held this past February.

Iowa takes action
In an effort to improve the quality of STEM education throughout Iowa, the state created the STEM Advisory Council, a public-private partnership that is dedicated to creating a stronger workforce tomorrow with better instruction today. Recently, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds announced that more than 800 schools and community organizations will take part in special programs.

In total, more than 900 schools and community organizations submitted applications to the STEM Advisory Council this past September.

"Applicants were selected based on need and capacity," said Jeff Weld, the STEM Advisory Council's executive director. "We will be closely watching factors such as test scores of our participants, attitudes and intentions of kids who participate in these programs, and readiness for postsecondary STEM study and careers to tell us the impact of our mission."

Students' test results to play a role
To gauge just how effective the programs are, students' progress in STEM subjects will be tested using the Iowa Assessments, the examinations that replaced the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS), according to Radio Iowa.

In addition to reading, vocabulary, spelling and social studies, the Iowa Assessments devote sections to science and mathematics. Reynolds said that the Assessments also monitor test takers' level of interest in these topics, as well as whether or not they have an interest in one day entering these fields. This, in turn, makes them a helpful tool in measuring Iowa students' STEM progress.