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National Science Assessment Shows Stable Scores for 4th- and 8th-Graders, Declines for 12th-Graders
November 20, 2001

A new report released today from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2000, a survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), shows the average scores of fourth- and eighth-graders were essentially unchanged from 1996, and the scores for 12th-graders declined by three points, a significant change.

These results were presented at a news conference at the Department of Education with Acting Commissioner Gary Phillips, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Edward Donley of the National Assessment Governing Board, and George Nelson of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“In contrast to the mathematics 2000 assessment, released in August 2001, where students in grades 4 and 8 made significant improvement, students in grades 4 and 8 in this assessment show no positive change. Twelfth-graders’ scores showed a decline, similar to what we saw in mathematics,” stated Gary W. Phillips, Acting Commissioner of NCES.

NAEP scale scores show, on average, what students know and can do in a given subject. Performance on achievement levels, the second way in which student performance is gauged and reported in NAEP assessments, also showed few changes in 2000. The percentage of 4th-graders attaining Basic, Proficient, and Advanced levels showed no change from 1996 to 2000. The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), the independent body that sets policy for NAEP, developed the three NAEP achievement levels. NAGB believes that every student should score Proficient or above. In 2000, 29 percent of 4th-graders scored Proficient or better on the NAEP science assessment, as did 32 percent of 8th-graders, and 18 percent of 12th-graders.

In addition to national results on students’ science performance, the assessment collected performance data on 4th- and 8th-graders in states and other jurisdictions. The assessment included over 15,000 students at each of the three grades assessed nationally, including both public and nonpublic school students, for a total of more than 49,000. The state assessments included approximately 96,000 students in 45 states and jurisdictions in the 4th grade and approximately 94,000 students in 44 states and jurisdictions in the 8th grade. These results were reported only for public school students.

Since NAEP did not assess 4th-graders in 1996, no comparisons to prior performance can be made. However, 8th-graders were assessed in both 1996 and 2000 at the state level. Dr. Phillips noted that "two states (California and Maine) showed a decline for the 8th grade. Kentucky, Missouri, and Vermont showed an increase, as did the domestic and overseas school systems operated by the U.S. Department of Defense for children whose parents are in the Armed Forces.”

At the state level, six states had the highest average scores for 4th-graders in 2000: Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, North Dakota, Montana, and Iowa. (The average scores for these states did not differ significantly from one another.) At the 8th grade, Montana had the highest average score.


Average scores for the NAEP science assessment are examined for five major racial/ethnic subgroups: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian. None of these subgroups had higher average scores in 2000 than in 1996 at any grade. Scores for two subgroups-American Indian students in the 8th grade and White students in the 12th grade-had lower scores in 2000 than in 1996. White students had higher scores, on average, than Black or Hispanic students. These gaps in subgroups’ performance showed no changes over the two assessments.

The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2000 assessment provides scores for students with disabilities (SD) and or limited-English-proficient students (LEP) who received accommodations. In both the 1996 and 2000 science assessments, NCES used two different samples, one that did not permit accommodations and one that did. Accommodations were only provided for students who required them. In 1996, there was no difference in performance between the two samples at any grade. In 2000, scores for students in the “accommodations permitted” sample were two points lower than the “accommodations not permitted” sample, for the 4th grade only. Future NAEP science assessments will only have one sample, which will allow accommodations for students who require them to participate.

The report looks at gender differences, and at grades 4 and 8, males outscored females. In 2000, the score gaps favoring males widened by 3 points at grade 4 and 5 points at grade 8. Also examined are relationships between student performance and responses to questions about teachers’ undergraduate major, classroom computer use, and coursework. For example, the NAEP data show that:

  • Eighth-graders whose teachers majored in science education had higher scores than students whose teachers did not. At fourth grade there was not a relationship.
  • Eighth-graders who took life science had lower scores than students taking earth, integrated science, biology, chemistry, or physics.
  • Fourth-graders who used computers to play learning games had higher scores than those who did not. Eighth-graders who used computers for simulations and analysis also scored higher.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is administered by NCES, an agency within the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

  • For further information on The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2000, please visit NCES’ NAEP Web Site at
  • All NAEP reports can be ordered by calling toll-free 1-877-4ED-Pubs (1-877-433-7827), TTY/TTD 1-877-576-7734; e-mailing at; or via the Internet at
  • There will be a live Web Chat at 2 pm on November 20 that can be accessed at

    Statements from Acting NCES Commissioner Phillips and Secretary Paige can be accessed at:

  • Acting Commissioner Phillips at:
  • Secretary Paige at: