Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Students score poorly in science exams

By Mary Vorsino


As Hawaii schools look to beef up science education, disappointing test scores show just how much work needs to be done to bring students up to standards.

Already low scores on the state's annual science assessment dropped this year for fourth- and 10th-graders, while just 26 percent of eighth-graders — who took the test for the first time — were proficient, state figures show.

Kent Hinton, administrator of the state Department of Education's student assessment section, said the scores may reflect the heavy emphasis on math and reading at schools.

"Science … is not as much emphasized," he said.

Though students are tested annually for science proficiency, the scores do not factor into determinations of whether a school makes "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind law. (Only reading and math scores are considered in those determinations).

Science test results, released earlier this month, showed that 22 percent of 10th-grade students tested proficient in biological science. Last year, 27 percent of sophomores tested proficient on a slightly different assessment.

Some 43 percent of fourth-grade students tested proficient in science, down 6 percentage points from the year before.

"We'd always like to see better results," Hinton said.

As part of continuing education reforms, the state has pledged to boost science proficiency in hopes of better preparing students for high-demand careers in science.

Earlier this year, the department used federal Race to the Top dollars to hire 14 science, technology, engineering and math mentors, who will oversee teacher training opportunities and improve science instruction.

The department is also trying to get more schools interested in participating in annual science fairs, where students get hands-on lessons in scientific inquiry.

"With our STEM initiative, we're looking at critical thinking," said Derrick Tsuruda, educational specialist for science. "How are you going to engage students in the scientific process? That's going to be a challenge."

Students in three grades are tested for proficiency in science as part of the annual Hawaii State Assessment. Like the math and reading portions of the test, the science exam went online in the 2010-11 school year.

Science testing has been through several changes, including a switch from testing in the fall to the spring, different grades tested and revisions of standards.

To test proficient, fourth-graders must meet state standards on life science and physical, earth and space science. Students in eighth grade are tested on biological and physical sciences along with the solar system. Students in 10th grade are tested on biological science. All students are tested on grade-level "scientific process" benchmarks.

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