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Assessing the Best:

NAEP's 1996 Assessment of Twelfth-Graders Taking Advanced Science Courses

August 2001

Authors: Christine Y. O'Sullivan and Wendy S. Grigg


Highlights

Sepia photograph of a teacher talking to his class about something on the blackboardThe National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the nation's only ongoing survey of what students know and can do in various subject areas. Authorized by Congress and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics in the Department of Education, NAEP regularly reports to the public on the educational progress of students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

In addition to the main NAEP science assessment that was conducted at all three grade levels in 1996, a special study was done that focused on twelfth-grade students taking advanced science courses in biology, chemistry, or physics during the 1995-96 school year. The purpose of the study was to assess what the top science students in the country know and can do in these subject areas.

The results of the study are presented in this report, which includes information on the science courses students reported taking, their overall performance on the assessment, and performance results for selected questions. Students' overall performance on the advanced science assessment is reported using two scales, a biology scale and a chemistry/physics scale.[1] Wherever possible, information is also provided for students who participated in the 1996 main NAEP science assessment, including data for the subgroup of students who were not enrolled in advanced science courses.

The following are some of the major findings from this study:

  • An estimated 23 percent of all twelfth-grade students were taking advanced science courses in the 1995-96 school year.

  • Sixty-nine percent of students in the advanced science study and 23 percent of the students from the main NAEP assessment who were not enrolled in an advanced science course reported taking seven or more semesters of science.

  • Female students who participated in the advanced science study were more likely than males to go beyond one year of course work in biology.

  • More than two-thirds of the students who participated in the advanced science study reported taking one or more years of biology (98 percent), chemistry (94 percent), or physics (70 percent). While a similar proportion of students who were not taking an advanced science course reported taking one or more years of biology (92 percent), there were fewer students taking one or more years of chemistry or physics (60 percent and 23 percent, respectively).

  • Males outperformed females on questions that measured students' knowledge of chemistry and physics.

  • White students and Asian/Pacific Islander students had higher scale scores than black students and Hispanic students for biology and chemistry/physics.

  • The average scale scores of students in the advanced science study who attended public and nonpublic schools were about the same.

  • Students in the advanced science study were more likely than the students in the national sample to respond correctly to the set of common questions administered to both groups. The difference in question scores between the advanced study and main NAEP samples on common questions ranged from 2 to 19 percentage points.

  • In general, constructed-response questions in the advanced science study were more difficult than multiple-choice questions and tended to have a higher percentage of omits than multiple-choice questions. This was also true for the main NAEP assessment.

Sepia photograph of two high-school-aged girls performing a science experiment in school

  1. The results for chemistry and physics were combined into a single scale in order to be consistent with the main NAEP science assessment in which similar questions were grouped together under the broad domain of "physical science."

PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. 668K

NCES 2001-451 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Education. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. National Center for Education Statistics. Assessing the Best: NAEP's 1996 Assessment of Twelfth-Graders Taking Advanced Science Courses, NCES 2001-451, by C.Y. O'Sullivan & W.S. Grigg. Washington, DC: 2001.

Last updated 23 August 2001 (PO'R)

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