The Nation???s Report Card Science 2009: National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 4, 8, and 12

The National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP) 2009 science results are in, and the snapshot of science education in
the United States is … unremittingly bleak. Across all states, 34 percent of
fourth graders, 30 percent of eighth graders, and just 21 percent of twelfth
graders are considered “proficient” in science. At the “advanced” level, that number
dive-bombs to about one in one hundred. Scores varied dramatically across
states: New Hampshire, home to the highest-performing fourth graders, boasts an
average NAEP science score thirty points (or about two grades) higher than the Mississippi
average score (out of 300 total points). In eighth grade, Montana and North
Dakota beat out the lowest performer, again Mississippi—and again by thirty
points. (State-specific results were not provided for twelfth graders). Data
disaggregated by student groups varied as well, breaking across familiar
lines—whites outperformed all other races, with Asians close behind (Asians, in
fact, surpass whites on the twelfth grade assessment); males slightly edged out
females; higher-income students performed better than their lower-income compatriots;
and urban students trailed those in suburbs, towns, and rural locales. Most
interestingly, though, are the twelfth-grade scores disaggregated by
“coursetaking category.” Here, we see that twelfth graders with three years of
high school science scored
thirty-three points higher
than those with only one year of secondary
science instruction (the same discrepancy between the highest- and
lowest-performing states). Typically, NAEP results are used to plot
student-achievement trend lines across the years—from 1996–2005 the assessment
kept the same framework, allowing for comparability. This assessment for the
2009 NAEP, however, is based on a new framework, making longitudinal comparison
impossible. Regardless of where we were five
years ago, though, it is clear where we are now: Our nation’s students can’t
tell their fibulae from their tibiae—and in order to remedy that, they’re going
to need to take more science courses.

National Center for Education Statistics, “The
Nation’s Report Card Science 2009: National Assessment of Educational Progress
at Grades 4, 8, and 12
” (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences,
January 2011).