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IP: FYI #128 - Science Education Assessment
From: Dave Farber <farber () cis upenn edu>
Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 16:11:48 -0500

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 128: October 28, 1997

National Indicator of Student Science Performance
The national goal of having U.S. students rank number one in the
world in math and science by the year 2000, established by
President Bush and continued by President Clinton in his "Goals
2000" program, has helped stimulate a number of attempts to
assess and improve the nation's K-12 education.  Recent efforts
include the development of voluntary national education standards
for both math and science, the Third International Mathematics
and Science Study (TIMSS), hearings by the House Science
Committee and, just released this month, the 1996 National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) science achievement

The NAEP, mandated by Congress more than 25 years ago, calls
itself "the nation's only continuing indicator of what America's
students know and can do."  Prior to the 1996 survey, a
significant attempt was made to update the assessment to comply
with contemporary theories and consensus among scientists and
educators regarding what is important in science education.  The
results provide a way to compare scientific achievement in three
major fields - earth, physical, and life sciences - of fourth,
eighth and twelfth graders nationally and across states.  

An inportant aspect of this test was that, while including some
multiple choice questions, it emphasized "questions that call for
student-constructed responses. . . .  In addition, students were
given hands-on activities that required them to actually  do' a
scientific investigation appropriate to their level of
development."  The performance levels were developed in an
iterative process with input from the National Assessment
Governing Board, science educators, scientists, and other
relevant parties.

The report's goal is to describe NAEP results "in terms of the
quality of student achievement by defining levels of learning
linked to a common body of knowledge and skills that all students
should attain, regardless of their backgrounds."  Three levels of
performance were defined for each of the three grades evaluated:
Basic, Proficient, and Advanced.  Students achieving a Basic
rating had shown partial, but not solid, "mastery of prerequisite
knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at
each grade."  Students rated Proficient "demonstrated competency
over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter
knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world
situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject
matter."  Advanced students showed "superior performance." 
According to the report, "the Board believes . . . that all
students should reach the Proficient level."

The results of the 1996 science NAEP report, in which
approximately 47 states and jurisdictions participated, are
summarized below:  At the fourth grade level, 38 percent of
students tested achieved the Basic level, 26 percent achieved
Proficient, and 3 percent reached Advanced.  In eighth grade, 32
percent of students demonstrated knowledge at the Basic level, 26
percent were rated Proficient, and 3 percent were Advanced.  By
twelfth grade, 36 percent of students were rated Basic, 18
percent Proficient, and, again, 3 percent Advanced.  Thus, for
each grade, over 30 percent of students did not even show a Basic
understanding of the science knowledge and skills appropriate for
their age.

In fourth grade, more males were rated Proficient or above than
females.  Eighth-graders did not show any gender disparity, but
by twelfth grade, "males performed better than females at all
three levels - Basic, Proficient, and Advanced."  For all three
grades, "higher levels of parental education were associated with
higher achievement level attainment."  Those students identified
as economically-disadvantaged, by the fact that they participated
in Title I and reduced-price lunch programs, "attained lower
achievement levels than those not participating in those
programs."  Regional differences were also found: "In general,
compared with students in the Southeast and West, a higher
percentage of students in the Northeast and Central regions
attained higher achievement levels."  Additionally, data is
provided on achievement levels by the following racial and ethnic
categories: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and
American Indian. The report cautions against assuming causal
relationships and says that "socioeconomic status, home
environment, and available educational opportunities influence
attainment and argue against oversimplified explanations."

The 88-page report, "NAEP 1996 Science Performance Standards:
Achievement Results for the Nation and the States," is available
on the Web at http://www.nagb.org, as is the 94-page "Science
Framework" that describes development of the performance levels,
and other related documents.

Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
The American Institute of Physics
fyi () aip org
(301) 209-3094

"Photons have neither morals nor visas"  --  Dave Farber 1994

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