Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Science test
scores drop

Hawaii and California get the
lowest scores on the national
public school science tests

Scores and sample questions

By Crystal Kua

Average Hawaii scores in a national science test released today for public school fourth- and eighth-graders are among the lowest in the country, prompting Department of Education officials to call for a greater emphasis on science from elementary through high school.

"We are deeply concerned," interim Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said.

The results of the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress -- known as "The Nation's Report Card" --- show that Hawaii eighth-grade average scores in science went down to 132 from 135 in 1996.

"Statistically, it's not (significant). Numerically, we think it is," said Marian Crislip, a DOE test development specialist and the department's NAEP coordinator.

Among the 44 states and jurisdictions which participated, Hawaii along with California had the lowest scores among the states in eighth-grade tests. Only American Samoa and Guam ranked lower. Montana had the highest score of 165.

In the fourth-grade test, only California, Mississippi, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands had lower than Hawaii's 136. Massachusetts had the highest score of 162.

The NAEP did not assess fourth graders in the state tests in 1996.

Both eighth and fourth grade scores were below the national average. Nationally, the NAEP survey showed that the average scores of fourth- and eighth-graders remained essentially stable from 1996.

The scores for high-school seniors, which are only tabulated on a national basis, show only about one in five 12th graders have a solid grasp of science, and only half know the basics.

The scores for 12th-graders who took the test were, on average, three points lower than those taking the test in 1996. Only 18 percent correctly answered challenging science questions, down from 21 percent in 1996. Those who knew just the basics dropped slightly to 53 percent.

State and national Department of Education officials say the NAEP data shows science has not been emphasized as much as other core subjects.

"Science has not been a focus for 30 years. You can't expect improvement where focus has been primarily on math and reading," Crislip said.

"We need to help kids focus and we need to help the teachers and schools continue to move along each year," Hamamoto said.

Hamamoto said she is also concerned because the skills learned in science applies in other academic

"Science inquiry is a way, a process skill that gets that critical thinking. It cuts across all areas and that's why science is a core," said Justin Mew, a DOE educational specialist who looks for and reviews science curriculum. Mew has also developed the DOE science standards.

Mew said he didn't anticipate an improvement in the science scores because the science standards were not completed until 1999 and the NAEP was given in the spring of 2000, which wasn't enough time for schools to implement the standards into its coursework.

"I think it will provide valuable feedback to show how our system is doing. We need to look at what the strengths and weaknesses are," Mew said.

Currently, Hawaii students need only one science credit in grades 7 and 8 to go to high school, where three science credits are required.

One of the major recommendations will be making science a requirement at eighth grade, which it currently isn't. "It's a long process. We've been trying but it didn't pass," Mew said.

About 46,000 students in 40 states took the tests for the national survey. The scores of an additional 200,000 students produced detailed state-by-state results. The national sample included public and private schools; the state-by-state sample included only public schools.

The Associated Press also
contributed to this report.


Average scores

Fourth graders

Last year


Eighth graders

Last year





Average scores were based on questions on Earth, physical and life sciences -- as well as conceptual understanding, scientific investigation and practical reasoning. NAEP did not assess fourth graders in 1996.

Sample questions

Fourth grade

Q: Think about where rain comes from and explain why Earth never runs out of rain.

A: When we get rain it evaporates and rains again.

Answer was judged complete, the highest of a three-level scale. (28 percent gave a complete answer.)

Eighth grade

All of the following would be helpful in separating a mixture of sand and salt EXCEPT:

a. A magnet.
b. A glass cup.
c. A filter paper and funnel.
d. Water.

CORRECT ANSWER: a. (59 percent of students answered correctly.)

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