According to the results of the latest version of The Nation’s Report Card, 66 percent of fourth graders, 70 percent of eighth graders, and 79 percent of twelfth graders did not score at the ‘proficient’ level or higher on the 2009 science assessment. Even more troubling is the high proportion of students who failed to achieve a ‘basic’ understanding of scientific concepts (28 percent of fourth graders, 37 percent of eighth graders, and 40 percent of 12 graders). Less than 2 percent of students in each of the grades achieved an ‘advanced’ score.

The test results also highlight an achievement gap between male and female students, and among students of different races. Boys’ scores were significantly higher for all three grades. In general, white students scored higher than all other ethnicities, except for grade 12, where white and Asian/Pacific Islander students scored equally well. Additionally, the average score for northern states tended to be higher than the national average, whereas the average score for southern states tended to be lower than the national average. New Hampshire and Montana topped the state rankings; Mississippi ranked last.

The assessment is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, a part of the Department of Education. The test measures students’ knowledge and abilities in physical, life, earth, and space sciences. Students’ scores are classified into three groups: basic, proficient, and advanced. Because of changes to the 2009 test, the most recent results cannot be compared with previous assessments.

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