Nation's Report Card
NAEP Science Scores: Younger Students Rack up Gains; Not So Seniors
- By Dian Schaffhauser
The Nation's Report Card for science is in, and scores have shown improvement, at least for grades 4 and 8, if not grade 12. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released new results for science tests taken in 2015, encompassing testing on physical science, life science and Earth and space sciences. The average science scores for American students in grades 4 and 8 increased four points between 2009 and 2015 but didn't change "significantly" for students in grade 12. Scores for almost all racial and ethnic groups also showed gains.
NAEP performs the largest assessment of what students know and can do in science and other subject areas. Specifically, the testing is done among a representative sample of students in grades 4, 8 and 12 in schools and districts across the country. State and national results are reported as scale scores from 0 to 300 and as a percentage of students in three achievement levels, "basic," "proficient" and "advanced," whose score ranges vary by subject area and grade assessed.
In 2015 about 115,400 grade 4 students participated in the science assessment. The average score rose from 150 in 2009 to 154 in 2015. A higher percentage of grade 4 students are now performing above proficient in 2015, compared to 2009. And the percentage of students below basic decreased from 28 percent in 2009 to 24 percent in 2015. There was no difference between male and female students. And the gains encompassed almost all racial and ethnic groups. Hispanic and black fourth graders made larger gains than their white peers, narrowing the gap between average scores for white students compared to black students (a shift from 36 percentage points in 2009 to 33 points in 2015) and white students compared to Hispanic students (from 32 percentage points in 2009 to 27 points in 2015).
Nearly 111,000 eighth graders took the NAEP science assessment in 2015. Similar to the grade 4 results, the average score was 154, up from 150 in 2009. Overall, a greater percentage of grade 8 students performed at or above proficient level. Both boys and girls made gains, narrowing the point gap to three in 2015 from four points in 2009. Average scores increased for white, black, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students. The gap in scores between white students and black students shrunk from 36 points in 2009 to 34 points in 2015; the gap between white students and Hispanic students dropped from 30 points in 2009 to 26 points in 2015.
About 11,000 12th graders took the NAEP science assessments. Compared to 2009, average scores at grade 12 didn't shift for any of the science content areas in 2015. Twenty-two percent of high school seniors performed at or above the proficient level, which wasn't significantly different from 2009. Male students performed on average five points higher than female students, down from a six-point gap in 2009.
Also, NAEP noted that more 12th graders are taking science courses. The percentage has increased from 53 percent in 2009 to 57 percent in 2015. Likewise, the percentage of 12th graders who have taken courses in biology, chemistry or physics since eighth grade has also risen, from 34 percent in 2009 to 41 percent in 2015.
An overview of the 2015 science test results is available on the NAEP website.
A more complete collection of the data, including state-by-state results, is available in PDF form.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.