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NATION’S REPORT CARD: Average Eighth-Grade Science Score Increases; Achievement Gaps Narrow, But Large Gaps Remain

“Science test scores are slightly up, and the achievement gap is narrowing, and that’s good news,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan .

The average eighth-grade science score increased from 150 in 2009 to 152 in 2011, according to the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. The report card also finds that the percentages of students performing at or above the “basic” and “proficient” levels were higher in 2011 than in 2009, while there was no significant change in the percentage of students at the “advanced” level.

“Science test scores are slightly up, and the achievement gap is narrowing, and that’s good news,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan . “Today’s results offer encouraging signs that our nation’s eighth graders are improving in science education. And for the first time, all fifty states participated in the science assessment with no states showing a decline in science scores.”

Nationally, 65 percent of eighth graders performed at or above the basic level—a 2-percentage-point gain from 2009. Thirty-two percent of eighth-grade students performed at or above the proficient level—also a 2-percentage-point gain from 2009. Only 2 percent of students performed at the advanced level—the same as in 2009.

Duncan said the lack of change at the advanced level told him that “we need to work harder and faster to build capacity in schools and in districts across the country.” He said there was a need to “do things differently,” saying “that’s why education reform is so critical.”

Although racial/ethnic achievement gaps narrowed from 2009 to 2011, large gaps remain between white students and their black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaskan Native peers.

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As shown in the graph to the right, the 5-point gain for Hispanic students and the 3-point gain for black students from 2009 to 2011 were larger than the 1-point gain for white students. The average scores of Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native students were not significantly different from 2009 to 2011.

In 2011, additional information on students’ race and ethnicity was collected, making it possible to further break down results for Asian students, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students, and students categorized as being of two or more races. When examining this additional data, stark differences emerged for Asian students, who had an average score of 161, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders, who had an average score of only 139. Students identified as being of two or more races had an average score of 156.

The results also identify large achievement gaps between low-income students, who had an average score of 137, up from 133, and students who were not low income, who had an average score of 164, an increase of 3 points. The 27-point gap between the two groups in 2011 was not significantly different from the 28-point gap in 2009. The report also breaks the results out by sex, finding that eighth-grade male students had an average score of 154—2 points higher than in 2009—while their female peers had an average score of 149, 1 point higher than in 2009.

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As Duncan pointed out, 2011 was the first time that all fifty states and the District of Columbia participated. While no states posted a decline, only sixteen states—Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming—increased their scores from 2009 to 2011. As shown in the map to the right, scores were not significantly different in thirty states that administered the test in 2009 and 2011. Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, and Vermont participated for the first time in 2011.

North Dakota, with an average score of 164, was the highest-performing state while the District of Columbia, at 112, was the lowest-performing. The states with the highest and lowest average scores are represented in the table below.


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The complete results, including state-by-state breakdowns, are available at

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