American High School Students Score Poorly On Science Tests

January 25, 2011

students taking examThe results from a recent nationwide science test revealed that only about a third of fourth graders and a fifth of high school seniors were proficient in the subject, the Department of Education reported.

Just one or two students out of every 100 scored well enough to be considered advanced in science, The New York Times noted.

"I was rather dismayed at the relatively lackluster performance at the top of the achievement levels," said Alan Friedman, a former executive of the New York Hall of Science who sits on the board that oversees the federal tests. "The fact that only one or two students out of 100 reach this level is disappointing and dangerous for our future."

The tests, called the National Assessment of Education Progress, were given in 2009 to about 308,000 fourth and eighth grade students and 11,000 12th graders. They tested students' knowledge in the physical, life, earth and space sciences, the government said.

In addition, only 21 percent of American high school seniors scored at or above the proficient level in science on the 2009 tests. Comparatively, 42 percent demonstrated proficiency on the economics exam; 38 percent scored well on reading tests; and 26 percent of the nation's 12th graders scored competently on math exams. The Department of Education categorizes students according to three achievement levels on the national exams: advanced, proficient and basic.

"It's disappointing," Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, told The Washington Post. "Essentially, it says that science hasn't been part of the agenda. Science has had very little attention."

Notably, boys scored higher than girls in all grades, The Wall Street Journal reported. Whites and Asians posted better scores than African-American and Hispanic students. Students from low-income families performed the worst on the tests.

Experts predict that President Barack Obama will discuss the nation's educational goals in his upcoming State of the Union address, The Washington Post noted. He has often emphasized the importance of science and math instruction and will likely make that a theme in his speech to Congress. Government officials say that President Obama is looking to broaden the curriculum in schools and pay special attention to science, which he hopes to achieve through a revision of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.

"There are a lot of children out there who could excel in math and science if we just give them properly trained teachers and a shot at challenging material," Tom Luce, a former assistant secretary of education under President George W. Bush, told The Wall Street Journal.

Compiled by Alexander Gong


"Few Students Show Proficiency in Science, Tests Show," nytimes.com, January 25, 2011, Sam Dillon

"National science test scores disappoint," washingtonpost.com, January 25, 2011, Nick Anderson

"Student Test Scores Show U.S. Science Deficiency," online.wsj.com, January 25, 2011, Stephanie Banchero

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