NAEP Shows Slight Improvements in 8th Grade Science Scores

There’s good news to be had from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The data collected from 8th graders between 2009 and 2011 and presented in Nation’s Report Card: Science 2011 show improvement in 2011 on several key metrics.

One of the most celebrated improvements was the narrowing of the achievement gap in sciences since 2009. The average scores for white students rose 1% while Black students showed 3% improvement. There was a similar trend in the scores of white and Hispanic students. Scores of Hispanic students improved by5% over the same period, while no changes in achievement gaps were detected between White and Asian/Pacific students. Asian/Pacific students continue to perform at least 4% worse than their white peers.

There was a similar lack of progress in the gender achievement gap. Although both genders performed better on average in 2011, males performed 5% better than their female counterparts. That might conceivably represent a step back from a 4% gap in 2009, but that result is not considered statistically significant

The average science score for public school students was higher in 2011 than in 2009, while there was no significant change in the score for private school students. Private school students scored 12 points higher on average than public school students in 2011, which was not significantly different from the 15-point score gap in 2009.

Public school students in 28 states scored higher than their peers in the nation; students in 15 states and the District of Columbia scored lower than their peers nationally.

Forty-seven states participated in the testing both in 2009 and 2011, thus making two-year comparison possible. Of the 47, 16 showed improvement, including Arkansas, Rhode Island, both North and South Carolina, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine and Maryland, among others.

Comparing the science scored between 2009 and 2011 showed that every state did at least as well and often better in 2011 than they did two years previously.

In a statement addressing the findings, the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that the improvements are an encouraging sign that the nation’s 8th graders are getting better in science. He also praised the fact that for the first time, no state showed a decline in test scores over previous two years. Although the report didn’t speculate on the reasons behind the improvement, Duncan attributed it to the administration’s commitment to superior STEM education access for every school child in the United States.

While the percentage of students performing at or above the Basic and Proficient levels in science were higher in 2011 than in 2009, when the last assessment was done, there was no significant change in the percentage of students at the Advanced level. This tells me that we need to work harder and faster to build capacity in schools and in districts across the country. We have to do things differently, that’s why education reform is so critical.

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