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The NAEP Science Achievement Levels

2009-2011 Achievement-Level Descriptions

1990-2005 Achievement-Level Descriptions

2009-2011 Achievement-Level Descriptions

Grade 4
Grade 8
Grade 12

In 2009, a new framework was introduced by the National Assessment Governing Board to reflect the changes in the field of science. Along with the introduction of a new framework, new achievement level descriptions and cut scores were established. The definitions of the Basic, Proficient, and Advanced achievement levels for grades 4, 8, and 12 are presented in the tables that follow. The achievement levels are cumulative. Therefore, students performing at the Proficient level also display the competencies associated with the Basic level, and students at the Advanced level also demonstrate the skills and knowledge associated with both the Basic and the Proficient levels. For each achievement level listed, the scale score that corresponds to the beginning of that level is shown in parentheses. Complete descriptions and additional information about the achievement levels are available in the science framework.

Find general information about achievement levels and the detailed descriptions for other NAEP subjects.

Grade 4

Basic
(131)

Students performing at the Basic level should be able to describe, measure, and classify familiar objects in the world around them, as well as explain and make predictions about familiar processes. These processes include changes of states of matter, movements of objects, basic needs and life cycles of plants and animals, changes in shadows during the day, and changes in weather. They should be able to critique simple observational studies, communicating observations and basic measurements of familiar systems and processes, and look for patterns in their observations. With regard to scientific constraints, they should also be able to propose and critique alternative solutions to problems involving familiar systems and processes.

 

Proficient
(167)

Students performing at the Proficient level should be able to demonstrate relationships among closely related science concepts, as well as analyze alternative explanations or predictions. They should be able to explain how changes in temperature cause changes of state, how forces can change motion, how adaptations help plants and animals meet their basic needs, how environmental changes can affect their growth and survival, how land formations can result from Earth processes, and how recycling can help conserve limited resources. They should be able to identify patterns in data and/or explain these patterns. They should also be able to identify and critique alternative responses to design problems.

 

Advanced
(224)

Students performing at the Advanced level should be able to demonstrate relationships among different representations of science principles, as well as propose alternative explanations or predictions of phenomena. They should be able to use numbers, drawings, and graphs to describe and explain motion of objects; analyze how environmental conditions affect growth and survival of plants and animals; describe changes in the sun's path through the sky at different times of year; and describe how human uses of Earth materials affect the environment. They should be able to design studies that use sampling strategies to obtain evidence. They should also be able to propose and critique alternative individual and local community responses to design problems.

 


Grade 8

Basic (141)

Students performing at the Basic level should be able to state or recognize correct science principles. They should be able to explain and predict observations of natural phenomena at multiple scales, from microscopic to global. They should be able to describe properties and common physical and chemical changes in materials; describe changes in potential and kinetic energy of moving objects; describe levels of organization of living systems—cells, multicellular organisms, and ecosystems; identify related organisms based on hereditary traits; describe a model of the solar system; and describe the processes of the water cycle. They should be able to design observational and experimental investigations employing appropriate tools for measuring variables. They should be able to propose and critique the scientific validity of alternative individual and local community responses to design problems.

Proficient
(170)

Students performing at the Proficient level should be able to demonstrate relationships among closely related science principles. They should be able to identify evidence of chemical changes; explain and predict motions of objects using positiontime graphs; explain metabolism, growth, and reproduction in cells, organisms, and ecosystems; use observations of the Sun, Earth, and Moon to explain visible motions in the sky; and predict surface and ground water movements in different regions of the world. They should be able to explain and predict observations of phenomena at multiple scales, from microscopic to macroscopic and local to global, and to suggest examples of observations that illustrate a science principle. They should be able to use evidence from investigations in arguments that accept, revise, or reject scientific models. They should be able to use scientific criteria to propose and critique alternative individual and local community responses to design problems.

 

Advanced
(215)

Students performing at the Advanced level should be able to develop alternative representations of science principles and explanations of observations. They should be able to use information from the periodic table to compare families of elements; explain changes of state in terms of energy flow; trace matter and energy through living systems at multiple scales; predict changes in populations through natural selection and reproduction; use lithospheric plate movement to explain geological phenomena; and identify relationships among regional weather and atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns. They should be able to design and critique investigations involving sampling processes, data quality review processes, and control of variables. They should be able to propose and critique alternative solutions that reflect science-based trade-offs for addressing local and regional problems.

 

 

Grade 12

Basic
(142)

Students performing at the Basic level should be able to describe, measure, classify, explain, and predict phenomena at multiple scales, from atomic/molecular to interstellar. These phenomena include the structure of atoms and molecules; transformations of matter and energy in physical, Earth, and living systems; motions of objects; the genetic role of DNA; changes in populations and ecosystems due to selection pressures; earthquakes and volcanoes; patterns in weather and climate; and biogeochemical cycles. They should be able to design and critique observational and experimental studies, and they should be able to propose and critique solutions to problems at local or regional scales.

 

Proficient
(179)

Students performing at the Proficient level should be able to demonstrate relationships and compare alternative models, predictions, and explanations. They should be able to explain trends among elements in the periodic table; conservation laws; chemical mechanisms for metabolism, growth, and reproduction; changes in populations due to natural selection; the evolution of the Universe; and evidence for boundaries and movements of tectonic plates. They should be able to design and critique observational and experimental studies, controlling multiple variables, using scientific models to explain results, and choosing among alternative conclusions based on arguments from evidence. They should be able to compare scientific costs or risks and benefits of alternative solutions to problems at local or regional scales.

Advanced
(222)

Students performing at the Advanced level should be able to use alternative models to generate predictions and explanations. They should be able to explain differences among physical, chemical, and nuclear changes; the wave and particle nature of light; paths of specific elements through living systems; responses of ecosystems to disturbances; evidence for the theory of an expanding Universe; and evidence for human effects on the Earth’s biogeochemical cycles. They should be able to design and critique investigations that relate data to alternative models of phenomena. They should be able to compare costs or risks and benefits of alternative solutions to problems at local, regional, and global scales.


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1990-2005 Achievement-Level Descriptions

Grade 4
Grade 8
Grade 12

Specific definitions of the Basic, Proficient, and Advanced achievement levels for grades 4, 8, and 12 are presented in the tables that follow. The achievement levels are cumulative. Therefore, students performing at the Proficient level also display the competencies associated with the Basic level, and students at the Advanced level also demonstrate the skills and knowledge associated with both the Basic and the Proficient levels. For each achievement level listed, the scale score that corresponds to the beginning of that level is shown in parentheses.

Grade 4

Basic
(138)

Students performing at the Basic level demonstrate some of the knowledge and reasoning required for understanding Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 4. For example, they can carry out simple investigations and read uncomplicated graphs and diagrams. Students at this level also show a beginning understanding of classification, simple relationships, and energy.

Fourth-grade students performing at the Basic level are able to follow simple procedures, manipulate simple materials, make observations, and record data. They are able to read simple graphs and diagrams and draw reasonable but limited conclusions based on data provided to them. These students can recognize appropriate experimental designs, although they are unable to justify their decisions.

When presented with diagrams, students at this level can identify seasons; distinguish between day and night; and place the position of the Earth, sun, and planets. They are able to recognize major energy sources and simple energy changes. In addition, they show an understanding of the relationships between sound and vibrations. These students are able to identify organisms with similar physical features. They can also describe relationships among structure, function, habitat, life cycles, and different organisms.

 

Proficient
(170)

Students performing at the Proficient level demonstrate the knowledge and reasoning required for understanding of the Earth, physical properties, structure, and function. In addition, students can formulate solutions to familiar problems as well as show a beginning awareness of issues associated with technology.

Fourth-grade students performing at the Proficient level are able to provide an explanation of day and night when given a diagram. They can recognize major features of the Earth's surface and the impact of natural forces. They are also able to recognize water in its various forms in the water cycle and can suggest ways to conserve it. These students recognize that various materials possess different properties that make them useful. Students at this level are able to explain how structure and function help living things survive. They have a beginning awareness of the benefits and challenges associated with technology and recognize some human effects on the environment. They can also make straightforward predictions and justify their position.

 

Advanced
(205)

Students performing at the Advanced level demonstrate a solid understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences as well as the ability to apply their understanding to practical situations at a level appropriate to grade 4. For example, they can perform and critique simple investigations, make connections from one or more of the sciences to predict or conclude, and apply fundamental concepts to practical applications.

Fourth-grade students performing at the Advanced level are able to combine information, data, and knowledge from one or more of the sciences to reach a conclusion or to make a valid prediction. They can also recognize, design and explain simple experimental procedures.

Students at this level recognize nonrenewable sources of energy. They also recognize that light and sound travel at different speeds. These students understand some principles of ecology and are able to compare and contrast life cycles of various common organisms. In addition, they have a developmental awareness of the benefits and challenges associated with technology.

 


Grade 8

Basic
(143)

Students performing at the Basic level demonstrate some of the knowledge and reasoning required for understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 8. For example, they can carry out investigations and obtain information from graphs, diagrams, and tables. In addition, they demonstrate some understanding of concepts relating to the solar system and relative motion. Students at this level also have a beginning understanding of cause-and-effect relationships.

Eighth-grade students performing at the Basic level are able to observe, measure, collect, record, and compute data from investigations. They can read simple graphs and tables and are able to make simple data comparisons. These students are able to follow directions and use basic science equipment to perform simple experiments. In addition, they have an emerging ability to design experiments.

Students at this level have some awareness of causal relationships. They recognize the position of planets and their movement around the sun and know basic weather-related phenomena. These students can explain changes in position and motion such as the movement of a truck in relation to that of a car. They also have emerging understanding of the interrelationships among plants, animals, and the environment.

Proficient
(170)

Students performing at the Proficient level demonstrate much of the knowledge and many of the reasoning abilities essential for understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 8. For example, students can interpret graphic information, design simple investigations, and explain such scientific concepts as energy transfer. Students at this level also show an awareness of environmental issues, especially those addressing energy and pollution.

Eighth-grade students performing at the Proficient level are able to create, interpret, and make predictions from charts, diagrams, and graphs based on information provided to them or from their own investigations. They have the ability to design an experiment and have an emerging understanding of scientific phenomena, and can design plans to solve problems.

Students at this level can begin to identify forms of energy and describe the role of energy transformation in living and nonliving systems. They have knowledge of organization, gravity, and motion within the solar system and can identify some factors that shape the surface of the Earth. These students have some understanding of properties of materials and have an emerging understanding of the particulate nature of matter, especially the effect of temperature on states of matter. They also know that light and sound travel at different speeds and can apply their knowledge of force, speed, and motion. The students demonstrate a developmental understanding of the flow of energy from the sun through living systems, especially plants. They know that organisms reproduce and that characteristics are inherited from previous generations. These students also understand that organisms are made up of cells and that cells have subcomponents with different functions. In addition, they are able to develop their own classification system based on physical characteristics. These students can list some effects of air and water pollution as well as demonstrate knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of different energy sources in terms of how they affect the environment and the economy.


 

 

Advanced
(208)

Students performing at the Advanced level demonstrate a solid understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences as well as the abilities required to apply their understanding in practical situations at a level appropriate to grade 8. For example, students can perform and critique the design of investigations, relate scientific concepts to each other, explain their reasoning, and discuss the impact of human activities on the environment.

Eighth-grade students performing at the Advanced level are able to provide an explanation for scientific results. They have a modest understanding of scale and are able to design a controlled experiment. These students have an understanding of models as representations of natural systems and can describe energy transfer in living and nonliving systems.

Students at this level are able to understand that present physical clues, including fossils and geological formations, are indications that the Earth has not always been the same and that the present is a key to understanding the past. They have a solid knowledge of forces and motions within the solar system and an emerging understanding of atmospheric pressure. These students can recognize a wide range of physical and chemical properties of matter and some of their interactions and understand some of the properties of light and sound. Also, they can infer relationships between structure and function. These students know the difference between plant and animal cells and can apply their knowledge of food as a source of energy to a practical situation. In addition, they are able to explain the impact of human activities on the environment and the economy.

 


Grade 12

Basic
(146)

Students performing at the Basic level demonstrate some knowledge and certain reasoning abilities required for understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 12. In addition, they demonstrate knowledge of the themes of science (models, systems, and patterns of change) required for understanding the most basic relationships among the Earth, physical, and life sciences. They are able to conduct investigations, critique the design of investigations, and demonstrate a rudimentary understanding of the scientific principles.

Twelfth-grade students performing at the Basic level are able to select and use appropriate simple laboratory equipment and write down simple procedures that others can follow. They also have a developmental ability to design complex experiments. These students are able to make classifications based on definitions such as physical properties and characteristics.

Students at this level demonstrate a rudimentary understanding of basic models and can also identify some parts of physical and biological systems. They are also able to identify some patterns in nature and rates of change over time. These students have the ability to identify basic scientific facts and terminology and have a rudimentary understanding of the scientific principles underlying such phenomena as volcanic activity, disease transmission, and energy transformation. In addition, they have some familiarity with the application of technology.

 

Proficient
(178)

Students performing at the Proficient level demonstrate the knowledge and reasoning abilities required for understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 12. In addition, they demonstrate knowledge of the themes of science (models, systems, and patterns of change) required for understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 12. In addition, they demonstrate knowledge of the themes of science (models, systems, and patterns of change) required for understanding how these themes illustrate essential relationships among the Earth, physical, and life sciences. They are able to analyze data and apply scientific principles to everyday situations.

Twelfth-grade students performing at the Proficient level are able to demonstrate a working ability to design and conduct scientific investigations. They are able to analyze data in various forms and utilize information to provide explanations and to draw reasonable conclusions.

Students at this level have a developmental understanding of both physical and conceptual models and are able to compare various models. They recognize some inputs and outputs, causes and effects, and interactions of a system. In addition, they can correlate structure to function for the parts of a system that they can identify. These students also recognize that rate of change depends on initial conditions and other factors. They are able to apply scientific concepts and principles to practical applications and solutions for problems in the real world and show developmental understanding of technology, its uses, and its applications.

Advanced
(210)

Students performing at the Advanced level demonstrate the knowledge and reasoning abilities required for a solid understanding of the Earth, physical, and life sciences at a level appropriate to grade 12. In addition, they demonstrate knowledge of the themes of science (models, systems, and patterns of change) required for integrating knowledge of scientific principles from Earth, physical, and life sciences. Students can design investigations that answer questions about real-world situations and use their reasoning abilities to make predictions.

Twelfth-grade students performing at the Advanced level are able to design scientific investigations to solve complex, real-world situations. They can integrate, interpolate, and extrapolate information embedded in data to draw well-formulated explanations and conclusions. They are also able to use complex reasoning skills to apply scientific knowledge to make predictions based on conditions, variables, and interactions.

Students at this level recognize the inherent strengths and limitations of models and can revise models based on additional information. They are able to recognize cause-and-effect relationships within systems and can utilize this knowledge to make reasonable predictions of future events. These students are able to recognize that patterns can be constant, exponential, or irregular and can apply this recognition to make predictions. They can also design a technological solution for a given problem.


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Last updated 05 July 2012 (NB)
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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
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