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Roughly a third of American 8th graders lack "basic" science comprehension, according to a new federal report out Thursday.
While that's actually a slight up-tick from the the last such assessment, it's not exactly reason to celebrate. Two-thirds of the students failed to prove proficiency in the sciences, and only 2 percent demonstrated the skills that could lead to an actual career in science down the road.
The report was based on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress and is commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card. The "basic" denotation indicates "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade." The term proficient, meanwhile, represents "solid academic performance."
The Washington Post notes that the report suggests little major change from a similar assessment taken in 2009. Boys are still outperforming girls, and private school students are still performing better than those in public education. While Hispanics and blacks made slightly more progress than their white counterparts, Asian students didn’t have a significant change in scores.
Gerry Wheeler, interim executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, offered this grim assessment (via the Post): "This is dreadful. We’ve got a situation where we haven’t done much different in the last decade and we keep expecting different results. As a country, we’ve backed off on science."
Wheeler and other experts say that the 2002 No Child Left Behind law is partly to blame, since it focuses on teaching reading and math at the expense of science.* Others speculate that fewer of the nation’s best science students are going into teaching post-graduation, since they can find better pay in other fields.
The exam, which was also given in 2005, was changed significantly in 2009, making it difficult to draw long-term comparison, according to the Associated Press. The Education Department, meanwhile, is planning on training 100,000 new science teachers over the next decade through incentive programs and bonuses to those certified in science. You can read the full federal report here.
*Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the year No Child Left Behind became law. It did so in 2002.