In a conference call on today’s release of national 2009 science scores of grades 4 and 8 and 12, members of the governing board of the the National Assessment of Educational Progress decried the one percent of students scoring at the top level. There was also concern over the growing number of students scoring below the most basic levels.
At the two grade levels where Georgia students’ test results were released, less than one-third are demonstrating solid academic performance and competency in science.
In Georgia, 27 percent of fourth graders performed at or above the proficient level on science, compared to the national average of 32 percent. In eighth grade, 27 percent performed at or above proficient, compared to 29 percent nationally. Twelfth grade scores were not released by state. (See the AJC story for more details on Georgia.)
“These are challenges that I think are very serious for all of us who are into science education and who want our children to be prepared to lead a full life,” said Dr. Alan J. Friedman, a NAEP board member and a graduate of Georgia Tech. “The fact we have so few at the top rank and so many at the basic is really a problem.”
Friedman said his concern is not only the lack of students at the high end of the performance scale who will develop the new vaccines or create energy-efficient cars, but the fact that many kids lack the science basics needed to make informed decisions in everyday life.
“I am concerned by all the people who need to understand science. Farmers need to understand the choice to use genetically altered crops. Voters who have candidates with different views on global climate change don’t have to be experts, but they need to know what the key questions are. Science is not an elective. It is an essential…to a vibrant democracy,” he said.
In explaining the dismal scores, Friedman said, “Many science educators think it is an unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind.”
Because the sweeping federal reform law focused on math and reading and attached dire consequences to low performance in those areas, Friedman said schools paid less attention to science. Another byproduct of this diminished focus on science is a decrease in high school students taking physics and chemistry, Friedman said.
The NAEP science test was redesigned to pose real-life problems and assess problem-solving skills. “This is really a great test,” Friedman said. “It is the best we ever had to see if kids are where we want them to be….to see if they think on their feet..to be able to look at something and see if they can tell what is wrong with it.”
Here is the official release:
According to results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – also known as The Nation’s Report Card – 34 percent of the nation’s fourth-graders, 30 percent of eighth-graders, and 21 percent of twelfth-graders are performing at or above the Proficient level in science, meaning that less than one-half of students are demonstrating solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter.
Partial mastery of the prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work was demonstrated by 72 percent of students performing at or above the Basic level at grade 4, 63 percent at grade 8, and 60 percent at grade 12.
“These results shed light on the critical need to ensure that all students have a strong foundation in science,” said David Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees policy for NAEP. “Science helps students further their understanding of our world, enabling them to connect ideas across disciplines and making them better problem solvers.”
The assessment, administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), was given to 156,500 fourth-graders, 151,100 eighth-graders, and 11,100 twelfth-graders. Assessment questions measured students’ knowledge and abilities in the areas of physical science, life science, and Earth and space sciences.
National-level results are reported for public and private school students at all three grades, and state-level data are available for public school students in 46 states and Department of Defense schools at grades 4 and 8. The results are reported as average scores on a scale of 0 to 300, and as percentages of students performing at or above three achievement levels:
The science framework, which describes the knowledge and skills that should be assessed, was recently updated to incorporate new advances in science, research on science learning, and components from international science assessments. Because of the changes to the assessment, the results from 2009 cannot be compared to those from previous assessment years; however, they provide a current snapshot of what the nation’s fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders know and can do in science that will serve as the basis for comparison with future science assessments. The 2009 science results also highlight differences in students’ performance based on demographic characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, family income, and school location) and how results in participating states/jurisdictions compare to the national results.
Score gaps among racial/ethnic groups were evident at all three grades in 2009. The gap in average scores for White and Black students was 36 points at grades 4 and 8, and 34 points at grade 12. White students scored 32 points higher on average than Hispanic students at grade 4, 30 points higher at grade 8, and 25 points higher at grade 12.
Scores also differed by gender and school location. Male students scored higher on average than female students in 2009 at all three grades. At grades 4 and 8, students attending schools in city locations scored lower on average than students in schools in suburban, town, or rural locations. At grade 12, the average score for students in city schools was lower than the score for students attending suburban schools but not significantly different from the scores for students in other locations.
Thirty-four percent of twelfth-graders reported that they either completed or were currently taking courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. These students scored higher on average than those who reported taking just biology and chemistry, or taking only biology or other science courses. Fifty-eight percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders reported taking biology, chemistry, and physics, which was higher than the percentages of other racial/ethnic groups taking all three courses.
Of the 47 states/jurisdictions that participated at the state level, average scores for fourth-grade public school students in 23 states and DOD schools were higher than the national average, and scores in 10 states were lower. At eighth grade, average scores for students in 24 states and DOD schools were higher than the average score for the nation, and scores for 15 states were lower.
Results also pointed to some differences between how states performed overall and how students within certain demographic groups within those states performed. For example, some states that scored lower than the nation overall had racial/ethnic groups that scored higher than their peers nationwide.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog