Less Than Half of Students Proficient in Science

Christine Armario, Comcast News, January 25, 2011

The nation’s students are still struggling in science, with less than half considered proficient and just a tiny fraction showing the advanced skills that could lead to careers in science and technology, according to results from an exam released Tuesday.

Only 1 percent of fourth-grade and 12th-grade students, and 2 percent of eighth-graders scored in the highest group on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test known as the Nation’s Report Card.

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The results also show a stark achievement gap, with only 10 percent of black students proficient in science in the fourth grade, compared to 46 percent of whites. At the high school level, results were even more bleak, with 71 percent of black students scoring below the basic knowledge level, and just 4 percent proficient.

Fifty-eight percent of Hispanic 12th-grade students scored below basic, as did 21 percent of whites.

“These are really stunning and concerning numbers,” said Amy Wilkins, vice president for government affairs and communications at The Education Trust. She noted that minority and low-income students are the fastest growing parts of the youth population, making the need to increase their achievement levels all the more urgent.

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Twenty-four states had scores that were higher than the national average at fourth grade, and 25 had higher scores at eighth grade. The achievement gap was also more notable in certain states. In Mississippi, for example, 68 percent of black fourth grade students scored below basic, and just 4 percent were proficient.

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Experts pointed to a variety of factors that likely contribute to the lackluster results.

Friedman said one unintended side effect of the No Child Left Behind law has been less emphasis on science, history, arts and other subjects in order to emphasize performance in math and reading.

Wilkins was skeptical of that explanation, noting that strong reading and math skills are the underpinnings for a strong science education as well. Schools that are doing well in reading and math are also doing well in science, she said.

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