* If the United States is to reach its goal of having the world's top-ranked math and science students, educators need to change the way they teach these subjects, says a report released yesterday by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington.

``Benchmarks for Science Literacy'' calls for an overhaul of science, mathematics, and technology instruction in public schools. It outlines national standards and stresses a ``less is more'' approach.

``Today's overstuffed curriculum places too much emphasis on memorizing countless formulas and generalizations, which severely hinders students' abilities to learn and understand material,'' says F. James Rutherford, director of Project 2061, a science literacy initiative launched by AAAS in 1989.

``By teaching less material - but teaching it better - and making the connection to arts, humanities, and vocational subjects, students will learn more and have a better understanding of facts and concepts,'' Mr. Rutherford says.

The report advocates a move away from memorization of facts toward instruction that helps students understand how science, math, and technology affect everyday life.

``Memorizing elements in the periodic table doesn't help students understand what global warming is and how the erosion of the ozone layer affects the world we live in,'' Rutherford says.

The science ``benchmarks'' were developed by teams of teachers, principals, and curriculum specialists in six school districts located in rural Georgia, suburban McFarland, Wis., and urban Philadelphia, San Antonio, and San Francisco.

Specific guidelines are provided for grades 2, 5, 8, and 12, but the report states that every student should leave school with the capacity to think scientifically; a knowledge of major science, math, and technology concepts and principles; and an understanding of how science works.

Lana Scott, a teacher in McFarland, Wis., who helped draft the benchmarks, says: ``Teachers of all grades and a variety of subject areas worked together with administrators to come up with this working road map that will help teachers and school districts navigate their own way and develop curricula to best meet the needs of their students.''

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