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Science report card for eighth-graders: Not an F, but hardly an A+

May 10, 2012|By Tami Dennis
  • A water molecule is made of which type of (and how many) atoms? Among eighth-graders, 54% know the answer.
A water molecule is made of which type of (and how many) atoms? Among eighth-graders,… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Eighth-graders are doing better in science. Marginally. 

The science results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress -- more catchily referred to as the nation's report card -- were released Thursday, and they show that the average eighth-grader's science score increased 2 points from 150 in 2009 to 152 in 2011.

The concerned parent or concerned citizen doesn't have to be an expert in math -- or science -- to wonder about the scale. The top possible score was 300; the lowest was 0.

"The gains are encouraging, but the racial and gender gaps show a cause for concern,” David P. Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, said in a statement. The board sets policy for the NAEP.

The test assesses public and private school students' knowledge of physical science, life science, and Earth and space sciences. The results are based on a sample of 122,000 students.

Perhaps Gerry Wheeler, the interim executive director of the National Science Teachers Assn., put it best. "I'm disappointed," he told Education Week. “Two points is certainly nothing to cheer about. If these kids can’t do better in science, our nation is in trouble.”

Among the findings:

-- White and Asian students scored higher than other ethnic or racial groups.

-- Private school students scored higher than public school students, though the report notes optimistically that the gap is narrowing.

-- Male students scored higher than female students.

Looking for surprises? Sorry. The report also found that students who often do hands-on class projects score higher than those who don't.

And, further, students who do science-y stuff for fun score higher than those who don't.

Much data parsing is available online:

The report offers, among other distillations, average score results by gender, race/ethnicity, type of school, family income level, student disability status and English fluency.

It also offers state-level data. And even without big drops or gains, the value of such data is in the details -- especially over time. Stay tuned for the next one.

In the meantime, test yourself. The report card also includes sample questions.

Here's the first one:

What atoms combine to make up a molecule of water?

A. 1 hydrogen, 1 oxygen

B. 1 hydrogen, 2 oxygen

C. 2 hydrogen, 1 oxygen

D. 2 hydrogen, 2 oxygen

The correct answer is C, and 54% of eighth-graders who took the NAEP science exam chose it correctly.

Here's another:

Water evaporates and falls back to Earth as rain or snow. What is the primary energy source that drives this cycle?

A. The wind

B. The sun

C. Air pressure

D. Ocean currents

The correct answer is B, and 53% of eighth-graders chose correctly. 

Did you?

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tami.dennis@latimes.com 

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