Test Results Show American Middle School Students Lacking Science Knowledge
May 12, 2012

Test Results Show American Middle School Students Lacking Science Knowledge

Two out of every three eight-graders in the United States are lacking when it comes to basic scientific knowledge, data from a 2011 examination administered by the Department of Education released Thursday has revealed.

According to Wall Street Journal reporter Stephanie Banchero , only 32% of students who took the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were sufficiently proficient in science. On the positive side, that is an increase of 2% from the first time the revised test was administered back in 2009, but the results were nonetheless disconcerting to educators and legislators alike.

Gerry Wheeler, interim executive director of the National Science Teachers Association -- one of the four groups responsible for developing the test's standards -- told USA Today's Greg Toppo that the test results were "no cause for optimism."

"This is deeply disappointing," Wheeler told Banchero in a separate interview. "This performance won't get us where we need to go to create the science-literate workforce we need."

In addition to the National Science Teachers Association, the NAEP standards were developed by the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and testing standards organization Achieve. They were written by a team comprised of scientists, science teachers, engineers, state-level policy staff members and business leaders across 26 states, Wheeler said.

Experts believe that there may be multiple causes for the poor results, Banchero said. Among them is a shortage of instructors qualified to teach the subject, budget cuts, and curriculum restrictions resulting from federal No Child Left Behind policy, which focused on the importance of math and reading tests and caused some schools to deemphasize other subjects, including science.

A total of 122,000 eighth graders from both public and private schools were given the 2011 NAEP, a test which measured student knowledge of earth, life, physical, and space sciences on a 300-point scale, the Wall Street Journal said. The average score was 152, compared to 150 in 2009, and there were slight improvements across the board in subjects of nearly every race, gender, and income level.

"Hispanic students posted the highest gains, jumping to an average score of 137 from 132, but still 26 points below the average score of white students," Banchero said. "Only 2% of all students were ranked 'advanced.'"