May 2006 Archives

Kids' Science Knowledge -- The Spin

48% of 12th Graders Have Less Than a "Basic" Understanding of Science

The National Assessment of Educational Progress released the results of science tests given in 2005 to a representative group of 300,000 students in the U.S. in grades 4,8 and 12. The tests graded students on science knowledge of physical science, earth science and biology and administrators determined the percentages of each grade that attained "below basic", "basic", "proficient" and "advanced" understanding of science. A sample question for eighth graders asked students to identify "the part of the cell that contains most of the cell's genetic material". 54% of the students that had a "basic" mastery of science answered the question correctly. Another "basic" question asked 12th graders to identify the function of a neuron, which about 50% of the test takers who attained "basic" levels of understanding managed to do.

A sample question for 4th graders has a picture of two cups, half filled with water, with "two solid steel balls" suspended over them, one much larger than the other. "In which cup will the water rise the most?", the question asks, and why? 64% of the "basic" students answered correctly. You would think most kids mastered the art of milk displacement by the time they've graduated their high-chairs but with the advent of sippy cups perhaps this is a lost science.

Relativity and the News: Bad Becomes Good

The 4th graders tested better than they did 5 years ago, a fact that was highlighted in many of the news stories. Eighth graders did not fare as well, 43% of all 8th graders are considered "Below Basic" level, while 30% are at "Basic" level. 24% are considered "Proficient", and 3% are considered "Advanced". By the time students reach the end of high school they've sunk even lower. Only 18% of 12th graders were considered "proficient". 46% of students were considered "below basic", 36% were at "basic" levels, 16% were considered "proficient", 2% were considered "advanced". 8th graders scored the same as they did 5 years ago whereas 12th graders scored worse.

The news is bad, but much of the news media managed to spin it positively. Although 4th graders did better, the average score was 151 out of 300, compared to 147 in 2000. Statistically better, percocious, kids these days. Another way to look at it is that 34% of 4th graders nationwide were "Below Basic" level, or 32% - according to this chart. There is a wide range across states reflecting a wide number of variables involved with such evaluations. In Mississippi 55% of the students are "below basic" level whereas in New Hampshire only 17% of students are below the "basic" level.

The Rocky Mountain News titled an article about the results, "Colorado Scores Above Average on National Science Tests". "Comfortably above", it embellished, although the state scored in the bottom two thirds of all states, and 26% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders failed to meet the "basic" standard.

Said the Boston Globe, "Vermont Among Top States in Science Test Results". "No other state had a higher score", the paper quoted Education Commissioner Richard Cate as saying, a statement that, if you look at the data, is patently incorrect. While most papers glossed over the pathetic showings, some took the results more seriously. The Chicago Tribune was harshly critical of Illinois. Illinois Kids Flunk Basic Science Test" is the title of their article. Despite the flogging, students in that state scored only one point below the average, no worse than 13 other states.

Scientists are Not Idols

The tests were voluntary, and several states did not participate, including Alaska, New York, Iowa, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Kansas. So what were people in doing when they freed up some time from studying science? New York claims they were tied up with No Child Left Behind Act testing requirements. A audience member who attended her third "American Idol" show at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles Tuesday night revealed what Kansas might be doing. "It's so exciting. Back in Kansas City, we have neighborhood parties up to the [Idol] finals.".


Science and American Idol were previously mentioned in Prioritizing Science Education, the Latest Report". Acronym Required comments occasionally on Science and Education.

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