Assessment

Science Scores Rise for 4th and 8th Grades

By Marva Hinton — October 27, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Students in the 4th and 8th grades are showing more mastery of science, but high school seniors’ scores on the assessment known as “the nation’s report card” stayed flat from 2009.

The results released this morning from the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress also found that while large gaps remain between black and Hispanic students and their white peers in science, those gaps are narrowing, as is the gender gap in 8th grade.

The tests measure students’ knowledge in the areas of physical science, life science, and Earth and space science in grades 4, 8, and 12. States’ participation in the assessment is voluntary. It’s offered to public and private school students as well as U.S. Department of Defense school system students. In 2015, more than 237,000 students from 46 states and Defense Department schools took the exam.

The average scores for students in both the 4th and 8th grades went up 4 points, to 154, compared with 2009. That’s on a scale of 1 to 300.

During a conference call with reporters, U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr., called the results encouraging.

“All of this means that more students are developing skills like thinking critically, making sense of information, and evaluating evidence,” said King. “More students are prepared to become innovators, entrepreneurs, researchers and inventors. And more students are learning how to become the problem solvers who can tackle our most pressing challenges.”

Average Science Scores for 8th Grade Students, by Race/Ethnicity

Improving test scores for black and Hispanic students are helping to close racial/ethnic achievement gaps in 8th grade science.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Source: The Nation’s Report Card

“Our nation’s future is inextricably linked to how well we educate our students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” he added.

The executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, David Evans, also called the higher scores a sign of progress.

“For the younger students, I think we’re just beginning to come out of a time when there has not been a lot of emphasis on teaching science at the younger grades,” said Evans. “By and large, only English/language arts and mathematics have been tested in the younger grades for quite a few years now. That has really led to a loss in the amount of time and effort that’s gone into teaching science for those younger students. The fact that there’s a gain at all is something that I think we should be encouraged by.”

Score Differences for Boys and Girls

Gender gaps in science remain steep at 12th grade.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Source: The Nation’s Report Card

In contrast to the 4th and 8th graders’ scores, the average scores for high school seniors have remained flat since 2009, at 150.

The 2015 NAEP findings come as more states adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, which de-emphasize rote memorization of facts and terminology in favor of scientific inquiry and hands-on learning. The NSTA helped write the standards, which have now been adopted by more than one-third of states.

In light of the fact that the science standards have only been out for 3½ years, Evans said he’s not surprised to see that scores for 12th graders were stagnant from 2009 to 2015.

“At the high school level, we have a long way to go even in those states where new standards have been adopted,” said Evans.

Despite the progress made among the 4th and 8th graders, all three groups remain well below the “proficient” level. Only 38 percent of 4th graders and 34 percent of 8th graders were proficient in science. The numbers were even worse for 12th graders, with only 22 percent of them scoring at or above that level.

But during a conference call with reporters, Bill Bushaw, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets the achievement levels, said it was important to keep the cutoff levels for determining proficiency in context.

“They are set at high levels, demanding levels even by the definition of ‘proficient,’ ” said Bushaw. “We don’t interpret this as being grade level. We don’t interpret this as being a pass rate. It’s interpreted as what students know and can do and what our experts have shared with us should be considered proficient.”

Shrinking Racial, Ethnic Gaps

Gaps between African-American students and their white peers have been narrowing among students in the 4th and 8th grades, according to the latest NAEP results. In 2009, white 4th graders scored 36 points higher than black students on average. In 2015, that span narrowed to 33 points. Among 8th graders, the divide between black and white students has narrowed from 36 points in 2009 to 34 points in 2015. There was not a significant reduction in the gap at the 12th grade level.

The gap between Hispanic students and white students is also decreasing. White 4th graders scored 32 points higher than Hispanic students on average in 2009. By 2015, that had narrowed to 27 points. For 8th graders, the gap between white and Hispanic student scores went from 30 points in 2009 to 26 points in 2015. The gap remained virtually unchanged at the 12th grade level.

“The fact that it’s narrowing because minority students are gaining is notable,” said Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers NAEP. “Nobody should be happy about where we are, but people should be pleased that we’re making progress.”

At the 4th grade level, there was no significant difference between the average scores of girls and boys. For students in the 8th grade, boys scored on average 3 points higher than girls. That’s down from a 5-point gap in 2011. There was not a significant difference between 2009 and 2015, where the gender gap is concerned, among 12th graders.

Students in a handful of states made gains that are higher than the national average of 4 points, but none was higher than Tennessee’s whose students in the 4th grade raised their scores by 8 points and those in the 8th grade increased their scores by 9 points.

Other states surpassing the national scores in the 4th grade were: Arizona, where students upped their scores by 11 points; Georgia, up 8 points; and Department of Defense schools, up 7 points.

In the 8th grade, students in Utah also had greater gains than the national average at 9 points, and Nevada students saw a 7-point gain.

A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2016 edition of Education Week as Science Gains Seen at 4th, 8th Grades


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Whitepaper
Proven Techniques for Assessing Students with Technology
Dr. Doug Fisher’s proven assessment techniques help your students become active learners and increase their chances for higher learning g...
Content provided by Achieve3000
Assessment Long a Testing Bastion, Florida Plans to End 'Outdated' Year-End Exams
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will shift to "progress monitoring" starting in the 2022-23 school year.
5 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he believes a new testing regimen is needed to replace the Florida Standards Assessment, which has been given since 2015.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Assessment Spotlight Spotlight on Assessment in 2021
In this Spotlight, review newest assessment scores, see how districts will catch up with their supports for disabled students, plus more.
Assessment 'Nation's Report Card' Has a New Reading Framework, After a Drawn-Out Battle Over Equity
The new framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress will guide development of the 2026 reading test.
10 min read
results 925693186 02
iStock/Getty