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The Nation's Report Card: Science 2009

January 2011

Author: National Center for Education Statistics

PDF Download The Nation's Report Card: Science 2009 PDF for viewing and printing (15654K PDF)


The cover image of the NAEP 2009 Science report card

Executive Summary

New 2009 science assessment measures students’ knowledge of physical science, life science, and Earth and space sciences

Percentages of students performing at or above Proficient range from 21 percent at grade 12 to 34 percent at grade 4

Scores higher for White, Asian/Pacific Islander, and male students

Scores higher than the national average in 24 states/jurisdictions at grade 4 and 25 score higher at grade 8

Examples of skills demonstrated by students performing at achievement levels

New 2009 science assessment measures students’ knowledge of physical science, life science, and Earth and space sciences

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science was updated in 2009 to keep the content current with key developments in science, curriculum standards, assessments, and research. Because of the recent changes to the assessment, the results from 2009 cannot be compared to those from previous assessment years; however, they provide a current snapshot of what the nation’s fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders know and can do in science that will serve as the basis for comparisons on future science assessments.

National and state samples of 156,500 fourth-graders and 151,100 eighth-graders, and a national sample
of 11,100 twelfth-graders, responded to questions designed to measure their knowledge and abilities in physical science, life science, and Earth and space sciences. A proficiency scale was developed in 2009 to facilitate NAEP science reporting and to establish the baseline for future science assessment results. For all three grades, the scales were set ranging from 0 to 300 with a mean of 150. That is, the overall average student performance for each grade corresponds to a score of 150. The 2009 results highlight differences in students’ performance based on demographic characteristics and how participating states compare to the national average.

Percentages of students performing at or above Proficient range from 21 percent at grade 12 to 34 percent at grade 4

The NAEP Proficient level represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed, with the ultimate achievement goal of all students performing at the Proficient level or higher. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter. Thirty-four percent of fourth-graders, 30 percent of eighth-graders, and 21 percent of twelfth-graders performed at or above the Proficient level in science in 2009.

The Basic level denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at each grade. Seventy-two percent of fourth-graders, 63 percent of eighth-graders, and 60 percent of twelfth-graders performed at or above the Basic level in science in 2009.

The Advanced level represents superior performance. One percent of fourth-graders, 2 percent of eighth-graders, and 1 percent of twelfth-graders performed at the Advanced level.

Achievement-level results in NAEP science at grades 4, 8, and 12: 2009

Image of vertical bar graph consisting of 3 separate layered bars. The ‘X’ axis is marked Grade 4, Grade 8, and Grade 12. The ‘Y’ axis lists a percentage range from 0 to 100. Bar layers indicate percent at or above the Basic level, at or above the Proficient Level, and at the Advanced level. The percent of students at or above the Basic level is 72 at grade four, 63 at grade eight, and 60 at grade 12.  The percent of students at or above the Proficient level is 34 at grade four, 30 at grade eight, and 21 at grade 12. The percent of students at the Advanced level is 1 at grade four, 2 at grade eight, and 1 at grade 12.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2009 Science Assessment.

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Scores higher for White, Asian/Pacific Islander, and male students

Results varied for students of different racial/ethnic groups. At grades 4 and 8, White students had higher average scores than other racial/ethnic groups, and Asian/Pacific Islander students scored higher than Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students. At grade 12, there was no significant difference in scores for White and Asian/Pacific Islander students, and both groups scored higher on average than other racial/ethnic groups. Male students scored higher on average than female students at all three grades.

Students’ performance on the science assessment also differed based on the location of the schools they attended. At grades 4 and 8, students attending schools in city locations scored lower on average than students in schools in other locations. At grade 12, the average score for students in city schools was lower than the score for students attending suburban schools, but was not significantly different from the scores for students in town and rural locations.

Average scores in NAEP science at grades 4, 8, and 12, by selected student and school characteristics: 2009

Race/Ethnicity

Grade 4

Grade 8

Grade 12

White

163
162
159

Black

127
126
125

Hispanic

131
132
134

Asian/Pacific Islander

160
160
164

American Indian/Alaska Native

135
137
144

Gender

Grade 4

Grade 8

Grade 12

Male

151
152
153

Female

149
148
147

School location

Grade 4

Grade 8

Grade 12

City

142
142
146

Suburb

154
154
154

Town

150
149
150

Rural

155
154
150

NOTE: Black includes African American, Hispanic includes Latino, and Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2009 Science Assessment.

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Scores higher than the national average in 24 states/jurisdictions at grade 4 and 25 score higher at grade 8

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Department of Defense schools volunteered to participate in the 2009 NAEP science assessment and contributed to results for the nation at grades 4 and 8. However, only 46 states and the Department of Defense schools had sufficient participation to report results separately for grades 4 and 8. These 47 states/jurisdictions are all referred to as “states” in the summary of results.

Grade 4

Image of map of the United States of America. States/jurisdictions on the maps are color-coded to indicate average science scores for each compared to the nation as a whole. Grade 4: Compared to the nation, average fourth-grade science scores were: Higher in the following 24 states: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Department of Defense Education Activity (overseas and domestic schools), Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming. Lower in the following 10 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada. Not significantly different in the following 13 states: Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia. The following states did not meet participation guidelines for reporting: Alaska, District of Columbia, Kansas, Nebraska, and Vermont.

Compared to the nation, average fourth-grade science scores were

Image of a green box.

higher in 24 states,

Image of a blue box.

lower in 10 states, and

Image of a box with diagonal lines.

not significantly different in 13 states.

Image of a white box.

State did not meet participation guidelines for reporting.


Grade 8

Image of map of the United States of America. States/jurisdictions on the maps are color-coded to indicate average science scores for each compared to the nation as a whole. Grade 8: Compared to the nation, average eighth-grade science scores were: Higher in the following 25 states: Colorado, Connecticut, Department of Defense Education Activity (overseas and domestic schools), Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming. Lower in the following 15 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, West Virginia. Not significantly different in the following 7 states: Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Tennessee, Texas. The following states did not meet participation guidelines for reporting: Alaska, District of Columbia, Kansas, Nebraska, and Vermont.

Compared to the nation, average eighth-grade science scores were

Image of a purple box.

higher in 25 states,

Image of a blue box.

lower in 15 states, and

Image of a box with diagonal lines.

not significantly different in 7 states.

Image of a white box.

State did not meet participation guidelines for reporting.

1Department of Defense Education Activity (overseas and domestic schools).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2009 Science Assessment.

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Examples of skills demonstrated by students performing at the Basic level

  • Explain the benefit of an adaptation for an organism (grade 4).
  • Relate oxygen level to atmospheric conditions at higher elevations (grade 8).
  • Solve a design problem related to the electric force between objects (grade 12).

Examples of skills demonstrated by students performing at the Proficient level

  • Recognize that gravitational force constantly affects an object (grade 4).
  • Relate characteristics of air masses to global regions (grade 8).
  • Evaluate two methods to help control an invasive species (grade 12).

Examples of skills demonstrated by students performing at the Advanced level

  • Design an investigation to compare types of bird food (grade 4).
  • Predict the Sun’s position in the sky (grade 8).
  • Recognize a nuclear fission reaction (grade 12).

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Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing:

PDF The Nation's Report Card: Science 2009 report PDF (15654K PDF)

NCES 2011-451  Ordering information


Suggested Citation
National Center for Education Statistics (2011). The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2009 (NCES 2011–451). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

For more information, see the results of the 2009 Science assessment on the Nation's Report Card website.

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Last updated 25 January 2011 (RH)
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