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OLDER STUDENTS’ SCIENCE SCORES REMAIN FLAT: “Nation’s Report Card” Scores Show Gains in Early Grades but No Improvement in Middle and High Schools

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"The Science 2005 Report contains some encouraging news for our students and schools.”

Similar to results from national tests in reading and math, scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science show that students in the early grades continued to show progress while eighth- and twelfth-grade students’ scores remained flat. The test, also referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card,” finds a narrowing of the achievement gap at the fourth-grade level between white students and their black and Hispanic peers. However, at the eighth-grade level, the achievement gap remained unchanged while the difference between white and black students’ scores at the twelfth-grade level grew larger. The test results will certainly be added to the ongoing arguments on how to improve American students’ weak science skills and how to better prepare students for the global economy of the 21st century.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings pointed to the test results as another example that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is working but also used the opportunity to push for an expansion of NCLB’s accountability provisions into high schools. “The Science 2005 Report contains some encouraging news for our students and schools,” she said. “It provides further evidence that accountability and assessments are working to raise achievement levels, even in subjects not directly tested under the No Child Left Behind Act. …. But much more work remains to be done. The answer is more accountability, not less.”

Results were most disappointing at the twelfth-grade level, where the average score declined from 150 in 1996 to 147 in 2005. In addition, the percentage of students who scored “below basic” rose from 43% in 1996 to nearly one half (46%) in 2005. Meanwhile, the percentage of twelfth-grade students who scored at grade level fell from 57% in 1996 to 54% in 2005.

“Our fourth graders are doing better—that’s the good news,” said Darvin M. Winick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. “But the 12th-grade results are distressing, there’s no other way to slice it. The Bush administration and just about everybody else is complaining about the high schools, and these results show there’s really something to complain about.”

At the fourth-grade level, all student groups had higher average science scores and higher percentages of students at or above the “basic” level than in any previous years. However, even with the gains, more than one third of all fourth graders performed below the basic level. At the eighth-grade level, 43% of all students scored “below basic,” and black students were the only eighth-grade student group to show improvement since 1996.

Large Achievement Gaps Remain at All Grade Levels

Due in large part to dramatic gains by black and Hispanic fourth graders, the achievement gap between white fourth graders and their black and Hispanic classmates narrowed slightly. Since 2000, scores for Hispanic fourth-grade students have jumped from 122 to 133, while black students’ scores improved from 122 to 129. Fourth-grade white students’ scores improved slightly, from 159 to 162. However, significant achievement gaps continue to exist at all grade levels. At the eighth-grade level, the report found no movement in the achievement gap, but at the twelfth-grade level, the achievement gap between white and black students actually increased by 6 points. The gap between white and Hispanic twelfth-grade students remained the same.

 

White Scale
Score

Hispanic Scale Score

White-Hispanic
Gap

Black Scale Score

White-Black
Gap

4th Grade

162

133

29

129

33

8th Grade

160

129

31

124

36

12th Grade

156

128

28

120

36

 

In discussing the results from the science assessment, both Spellings and Winick linked science scores to a student’s ability to read and do math. “If the kids can’t read, and they can’t do basic math, they’re going to have a hard time in science,” Winick noted.

Spellings said, “The report also underscores the vital importance of reading and mathematics. Gains made in these foundational subjects have a positive impact across the academic spectrum. As we work with states to add science assessments in the 2007–08 school year, we will not let up in our effort to bring all students up to grade level in reading and math.”

There is still a lot of work to do to improve students’ reading levels, especially in the later grades. According to the results of the NAEP long-term-trend assessment in reading, there was no measurable change in average reading scores for 17-year-olds between 1971 and 2004. In addition, the 2005 Nation’s Report Card in reading found that nearly one third of all eighth-grade students read below the basic level.

The complete report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006466.

Secretary Spellings’s complete statement is available at http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2006/05/05242006.html.

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