U.S. Fourth-Graders Improve in Science
June 6, 2006 -- In the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- a national test meant to track American students’ knowledge of science at different levels -- high school seniors’ scores dropped, eighth-graders’ scores stayed the same, and fourth-graders’ scores improved. The U.S. Department of Education administered the test covering earth, physical, and life sciences to more than 300,000 students throughout the United States.
The test groups scores into three achievement levels: advanced, proficient, and basic. Anything below basic is considered failing. In 2005, 54 percent of high school seniors performed at or above the basic level, compared with 57 percent in 1996. The number of fourth-graders who performed at or above the basic level increased by 5 percent since 1996. With no overall change since 1996, about 59 percent of eighth-graders received basic level scores or higher.
Since previous assessment years, the scores of fourth- and eighth-grade black and Hispanic students increased, closing the gap between minority and white students. However, the gap between minority and white 12th-graders widened.
Several National Research Council reports deal with science education in the United States. Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future recommends creating a merit-based scholarship program to attract top students to teaching careers and improve K-12 mathematics and science education. America’s Lab Report says that the quality of science laboratory experience is poor for most U.S. high school students, but an emergent body of research indicates that educators may well increase science learning and interest in science if laboratory experiences follow four key principles of effective instructional design. Science for All Children provides guidelines for planning and implementing an elementary science program for schools. National Science Education Standards provides the nation's first comprehensive standards to improve science education in grades K-12. The guidelines are designed to strengthen not only the content of what is taught to students, but also teaching methods, teacher education, student assessments, school wide science education programs, and links with the broader educational system. Educators, local school districts, and policymakers can use them to bolster the full range of activities that influence science education.