NC 4th graders on par in science

North Carolina fourth graders are on par with their national peers in science, according to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress in science, but eighth grade students performed slightly lower than the national average.

Results of the science assessments were released today for the 44 states and one jurisdiction that participated in the 2005 assessments, the third time that NAEP has measured science achievement since 1996.

“Today’s news verifies that science needs more emphasis at every level of schooling, and especially at the middle grades level,” State Superintendent June Atkinson said. “Science is a foundational skill, just as key to students’ preparation as reading and mathematics. Schools need encouragement, support and resources to ensure that students are receiving the instruction they need.”

For fourth graders, North Carolina’s average scale score was 149. The fourth grade score was the same as the nation (149) and not significantly different from the state’s average score for 2000 (147). Fourth grade science has been measured twice at the state level, in 2000 and in 2005. Sixty-five percent of North Carolina fourth graders scored at or above the Basic level of performance in 2005, and 25 percent were at or above the Proficient level. Nationally, 66 percent of fourth graders scored at or above the Basic level of performance, and 27 percent scored at or above Proficient.

For eighth graders, North Carolina’s average scale score was 144, which is not significantly different from the average score in 2000 (145) or in 1996 (147). The nation’s 2005 average scale score was 147. Eighth grade science has been measured three times at the state level, in 1996, 2000 and in 2005. The percentage of students in North Carolina who scored at or above the Basic level was 53 percent in 2005, as compared to 57 percent for the nation. The percentage of students at the Proficient level was 22 percent in North Carolina and 27 percent in the nation. North Carolina’s indicators were not significantly different from those reported in prior assessments.

Male students scored significantly higher than female students at the fourth grade, but there was no significant difference in the performance of eighth grade males and females. Achievement gaps were evident among other groups and remained similar to gaps in prior years. Black eighth graders posted average scores that were lower than those of white students by 33 points. Hispanic eighth graders’ average scale score was 23 points lower than white students’ average score. Students who were eligible for free/reduced price school lunch, an indicator of poverty, had an average scale score that was 25 points lower than the scores for students who were not eligible for free/reduced price school lunch.

At the fourth grade level, black students had an average scale score that was lower than that of white students by 31 points. Hispanic fourth graders had an average scale score that was lower by 23 points. Students eligible for free/reduced price school lunches had an average scale score that was 26 points lower than the score of those who were not eligible.

NAEP assesses science in two major dimensions: fields of science (earth, physical and life) and knowing and doing science (conceptual understanding, scientific investigation and practical reasoning). The assessments contain questions that are multiple choice, short constructed response and extended constructed response and are given to a representative sample of fourth and eighth grade students across the state. Because this assessment is given to a sample of students, local school or district results are not available.

Approximately 4,000 North Carolina fourth graders and 4,000 of the state’s eighth graders participated in the science NAEP. Their performance is reported as scale scores and also achievement levels. The NAEP science assessments are presented on separate 300-point scales. Achievement levels for the science assessment are identified as Basic, Proficient and Advanced. The National Assessment Governing Board establishes NAEP achievement levels. A Basic level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade. The Proficient level represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students at the Proficient level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of knowledge to real-world situations and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.

Science is a part of North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study for grades K-12 and is receiving more attention in North Carolina and nationally. Science teachers in North Carolina are participating this summer in a variety of professional development activities to enhance their science instructional strategies. In addition, the science specialists at the NC Department of Public Instruction have prepared science curriculum support documents to strengthen teachers’ classroom and laboratory activities to help students better meet the state’s curriculum standards in science.

North Carolina standardized science assessments at the elementary and middle school levels will be given initially in the 2007-08 school year at grades 5 and 8. Science assessments are required in elementary and middle school for every state as a part of No Child Left Behind, the federal education law.