The nation’s 2011 report card in 8th-grade science was released today, and the news is, well, so-so. On the on the one hand, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science went up in 16 states and down in none since 2009. They went up for each ethnic or racial group except Asians and Pacific Islanders, and they went up for low-income students. On the other hand, they remain much lower than they should be, they didn’t go up very much, and yawning achievement gaps still separate Black, Hispanic and American Indian students from white students.
In contrast to what you might hear, our students are actually doing better in science than they probably ever have. The real story here is that they are not improving fast enough to meet the growing demand for knowledge and skills, and much of the rest of the world is passing us by.
Here’s a brief rundown of major results:
Students of color made the largest gains, narrowing achievement gaps slightly.
The news about low-income students was both cheering and disquieting:
Students who do hands-on science projects, or who often work together in groups, scored higher:
These findings about hands-on and group work are compelling, but treat them with caution. As far as we can tell, the analysis does not control for factors such as students’ family income.
All told, we are making improvements in science, but the moral of the story here isn't that slow and steady wins the race. We have to pick up the pace of improvement if we're ever going to prepare our young people for a world that may fast pass us by.