By STEVE KILAR
WASHINGTON (January 26, 2011) Only 29 percent of Maryland's public school eighth-graders and 33 percent of fourth-graders are considered proficient or advanced in science, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The assessment results were described in an e-mail as "troubling" by J. Randy McGinnis, professor of science education at the University of Maryland and president-elect of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching.
McGinnis attributes low science proficiency to No Child Left Behind, the 2001 federal law that led to fewer school hours spent on science education.
"The focus only on mathematics and reading in NCLB ... negatively impacted not only the time spent on science education in elementary schools but also the type of science education that research shows is most effective for high-quality science education worldwide (that is, inquiry-based instruction that requires learners to learn science practices and not simply learn science information)," McGinnis said.
In the State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama called for replacement of the Bush-era policy with "a law that's more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids."
Results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress show that the percentage of Maryland public school students who scored at or above the proficient level in science is about the same as the national average.
But the average score for Maryland's eighth-graders was lower than in 25 states, including Virginia. Of Virginia's eighth-graders in public school, 36 percent are at or above the proficient level in science.
Maryland fourth-graders' average score is lower than in 21 states while Virginia's fourth-graders have one of the nation's highest average test scores, trailing only New Hampshire. Forty-five percent of Virginia's fourth-graders are at or above the proficient level.
"While comparisons between results by states such as regional neighbors Virginia and Maryland do prompt questions ... the key finding from the NAEP science results is that we need to reconsider the direction U.S. educational policy has set for science education and that a new commitment to informing educational policy by reference to a large body of research in science education should be enacted," McGinnis said.
The assessments, which test physical, life, Earth and space science, were given to more than 300,000 fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders.
State-level data for 12th-graders is not available, but nationally only 21 percent of high school seniors are performing at or above the proficient level. The national results include data from private schools.
The U.S. educational assessment program, which is often referred to as The Nation's Report Card, tests core subjects including science, reading, math and civics. Subjects are tested on a rolling basis, about once every five years.
The framework for the 2009 science assessment was substantially changed from previous years because of advances in science and in order to align the U.S. Department of Education's measurements with international standards, said Cornelia Smith Orr, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board.
The change in framework prevents comparison of the results from the 2009 science assessment to scores from previous years, Orr said.
The 2009 results, Orr said, will be the government's new baseline for future assessments and will allow the U.S. to compare its science education benchmarks with other countries.
Because of the change in the testing framework, the next national science assessment for eighth-graders is scheduled for this year, Orr said.
The assessment will next be given to all three grades—fourth, eighth and 12th—in 2015, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress' timeline.