New test results show U.S. fourth and eighth-graders have made improvements in their study of science, narrowing persistent achievement gaps based on gender and race.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress report, released Thursday, measured science knowledge in fourth, eighth and 12th grades in 2015. The results showed improvements in average scores for the two younger grades and no significant change in 12th grade, compared to 2009. The exam, scored on a scale of 0 to 300, tests students on physical science, life science and Earth and space sciences.
Despite improvements, a majority of students in all three grades didn't reach the level of proficiency. While 38% of fourth-graders and 34% of eighth-graders tested at or above proficient—an improvement from 2009 in both cases—even fewer 12th graders (22%) reached that level.
Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, told the Washington Post that the test sets a high bar for proficiency and U.S. students tend to perform better on international exams.
Female students showed faster improvement than male students, according to the report, erasing the gender gap in science in fourth grade and narrowing it to 3 points in eighth grade. The gap narrowed to 5 points in 12th grade.
In fourth and eighth grade, black and Hispanic students made more significant improvements compared to white students, slightly narrowing the racial achievement gap compared to 2009. All three grades still show gaps of more than 30 points between white and black students, and more than 20 points between white and Hispanic students.
"This is exactly what we like to see: all students improving but students at the bottom of the distribution making faster gains," Carr told the Post.