Stranger Fruit

The Department of Education has issued its National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2005 science assessment noting that “[t]he national results show an increase in the average science score since 1996 at grade 4, no significant change at grade 8, and a decline at grade 12.” The report is available here (as a pdf) and here (in summary). Assessment was based on students’ average science score on a 0-300 scale and in terms of the percentage of students attaining each of three achievement levels: Basic (score over 138), Proficient (> 170), and Advanced (> 205). The cut-off scores rise slightly through 12th grade.


While this all looks relatively encouraging, it is worth considering that at the national level, 34% of 4th graders are below basic, and only 27% are proficient or advanced. Similar numbers occur for 8th & 12th graders. In other words, nearly three out of four students do not reach proficiency level in science. Can someone please explain to me how “teaching the controversy” is going to make that better?

Below the fold, I give sample questions for all three grade levels.

Update: I just noticed Chad discusses the scores here.

Grade 4 (47% of students answered correctly)

Q: The surface of the Moon is covered with craters. Most of these craters were formed by:

A: Eruptions of active volcanoes.
B: The impact of many meteoroids.
C: Shifting rock on the moon’s surface (“moonquakes”).
D: Tidal forces caused by the Earth and sun.

Grade 8 (23% got it right)

The following question was categorized as scientific investigation in physical science. Responses were rated using a three-level scoring guide. “Complete” responses showed an understanding of how to distinguish fresh water from salt water by describing both a method for determining the difference and a result. “Partial” responses showed some understanding of the difference between fresh and salt water but did not provide a method for distinguishing them, or gave a correct method but no result. “Incorrect” responses showed no understanding of how to distinguish between fresh and salt water.

Q: Maria has one glass of pure water and one glass of salt water, which look exactly alike. Explain what Maria could do, without tasting the water, to find out which glass contains the salt water.

A: One thing she could do is evaporate each glass of water. The glass with salt water in it should have salt left in it when the water has evaporated.

Grade 12 (56% got it correct)

Q: Which is a function of a neuron?

A: It carries oxygen to other cells.
B: It secretes digestive enzymes.
C. It removed foreign particles from the bloodstream.
D. It receives signals from the internal and external environments.