The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2011 (Grade 8)

It’s a big week for science geeks: Achieve is slated to release the long-awaited draft Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS) tomorrow. Until then, we have the just-released nation’s report card for eighth-grade science to keep us occupied. Overall trends are positive: Scale scores ticked up two points since 2009. (Due to framework changes, we can’t compare data any further back than that.) The black-white achievement gap dropped one point, and the Hispanic-white gap narrowed by three points. All racial subgroups saw bumps in achievement. At the state level, sixteen jurisdictions improved their scale scores since 2009; no states averaged scores significantly lower than their 2009 marks. Further, we learn that those students who engage in hands-on science activities at least once a week and those who participate in science activities outside the classroom fair better on NAEP—an encouraging find for programs like Project Lead the Way. But there’s also cause for concern. Notably (staffers at PLTW and elsewhere should take note), we have not shown the ability to boost outcomes for our best and brightest. The percentage of students scoring “advanced” on the eighth-grade NAEP science test stagnated between 2009 and 2011—at a dismal 2 percent. (Compare this to the 8 percent of eighth graders scoring advanced in math.) All achievement groups are making gains save our top performers: The bottom quartile of students bumped three scale-score points, the top quartile just one point. The top-decile students, however, saw no significant improvement in scores. Now is an exciting—and potentially volatile—time for American science education. As the NGSS movement gets underway and more attention is brought to science education writ large, let these NAEP data—and their implications for America’s global competitiveness—help to guide the conversation. Expect more from us on this front in the coming days and weeks.

National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2011 (Grade 8) (Washington, D.C.: United Stated Department of Education, 2012).

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