Hawaii fourth and eighth graders performed below already low national scores on a national science assessment, according to results released today.
The average score for Hawaii eighth graders in public schools was lower than those seen in 41 states and higher than only one — Mississippi.
The average score for fourth graders was lower than those in 39 states, and also only higher than Mississippi.
Hawaii’s below average results are part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, that shows the nation falling behind in science education, with less than half of students considered proficient in science and just a tiny fraction showing the advanced skills that could lead to careers in science and technology.
Robert Hillier, Hawaii’s NAEP coordinator, said the scores are "disappointing."
Fifty percent of eighth graders in Hawaii tested "below basic," compared to 38 percent nationally.
Meanwhile, 37 percent of fourth graders tested "below basic," compared to 29 percent nationally.
The scores come as the state Department of Education is working to boost achievement as part of Race to the Top reforms.
Nationwide, only 1 percent of fourth-grade and 12th-grade students, and 2 percent of eighth-graders scored in the highest group on the test.
"Our ability to create the next generation of U.S. leaders in science and technology is seriously in danger," said Alan Friedman, former director of the New York Hall of Science, and a member of the board that oversees the test.
The exam tests knowledge and understanding of physical, life, Earth and space sciences. Examples of skills students need to demonstrate to perform at the advanced level include: designing an investigation to compare types of bird food in fourth grade; predicting the sun’s position in the sky in eighth grade; and recognizing a nuclear fission reaction for those in 12th grade.
Overall, 34 percent of fourth-graders, 30 percent of eighth-graders and 21 percent of 12th-graders scored at the proficient level or above. Seventy-two percent of fourth-graders, 63 percent of eighth-graders and 60 percent of 12th-graders showed a basic level or above of science knowledge and skills.
"I’m at least as concerned, maybe even more, about the large number who fall at the low end," Friedman said. "Advanced is advanced. But basic is really basic. It doesn’t even mean a complete understanding of the most simple fundamentals."
The results also indicated there are significant differences between states.
Twenty-four states had scores that were higher than the national average at fourth grade, and 25 had higher scores at eighth grade. The achievement gap was also more notable in certain states. In Mississippi, for example, 68 percent of black fourth grade students scored below basic, and just 4 percent were proficient.
The test was given to more than 150,000 students in both fourth and eighth grade, and a nationally representative sample of 11,100 high school seniors. The last time it was given was in 2005, but the test was significantly updated in 2009, making a comparison between years unreliable.
Friedman said the 2009 exam tested students more on how well they understand and know how to apply scientific knowledge, rather than memorization of scientific terms and formulas.
The 2009 PISA results placed U.S. students within the same range of countries including Poland, France, and Portugal. The average U.S. score was 502, far below the average score of 575 for students in Shanghai, China.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the NAEP results show students aren’t learning at a rate that will maintain the United States’ role as an international science leader. He said President Barack Obama has called for an "all hands on deck" approach and set a goal of recruiting 10,000 new science and math teachers over the next two years.
"Our nation’s long-term economic prosperity depends on providing a world class education to all students, especially in mathematics and science," Duncan said.
The results also show a stark achievement gap, with only 10 percent of black students proficient in science in the fourth grade, compared to 46 percent of whites. At the high school level, results were even more bleak, with 71 percent of black students scoring below the basic knowledge level, and just 4 percent proficient.
Fifty-eight percent of Hispanic 12th-grade students scored below basic, as did 21 percent of whites.
"These are really stunning and concerning numbers," said Amy Wilkins, vice president for government affairs and communications at The Education Trust. She noted that minority and low-income students are the fastest growing parts of the youth population, making the need to increase their achievement levels all the more urgent.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.