The results are in, and the scores are not good.
Ironically, on the very day that President Obama made the importance of science and math instruction a major theme in his State of the Union speech, the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that about two-thirds of U.S. fourth-graders failed to show proficiency in science in 2009.
Almost Three-Fourths Of Students Are Not Proficient
In addition, 70 percent of eighth-graders and 79 percent of twelfth-graders did not make proficiency in the science portion of the test, known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” (The NAEP is a national-level assessment of what students can do in various subjects and is given only to these three grades levels.)
Major Achievement Gaps
Even more alarming were some of the demographic discrepancies.
From The Washington Post:
There were major achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups: Black and Hispanic students trailed their white and Asian American peers by 20 to 30 points on a 300-point scale.
There was a gender gap at all three grade levels, widest among older students: The average score for 12th-grade boys was 153; for 12th-grade girls, 147.
Many students failed to reach a basic level of achievement. Performance was judged as advanced, proficient, basic or below basic.
Examples of basic skills: A fourth-grader should be able to explain the benefit of an adaptation for an organism, an eighth-grader should be able to relate oxygen level to atmospheric conditions at higher elevations, and a 12th-grader should be able to solve a design problem related to the electrical force between objects.
Why Such Dismal Scores?
Although some science testing is now mandated under No Child Left Behind(NCLB), the education act has forced teachers to focus more time on math, reading and English instruction, the subjects highlighted in the standardized tests.
There’s another important reason too. Many teachers feel “under-trained” in science and are “hesitant about emphasizing it in their classrooms,” says Harold Pratt, a fellow in science at the University of Pittsburgh.
A recent survey of 923 elementary teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area found that 80 percent of those teachers devote less than an hour a week to science, and another 16 percent spend no time at all on science. And the lack of high-quality science at the elementary level makes it difficult for students to catch up later.
Let’s hope that President Obama’s words in his State of the Union address are not just empty rhetoric, but are followed by action.
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