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Science scores suffer

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Half of Hawaii eighth-graders and nearly 40 percent of fourth-graders in public schools tested "below basic" proficiency in science on a national assessment, according to results released yesterday.

Their average scores were higher than those in only one other state: Mississippi.

Hawaii’s below-average results are part of an overall disappointing showing for America’s students on a revamped science portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

Nationwide, less than half of students were deemed proficient in science, and a tiny fraction demonstrated the advanced skills that could lead to careers in science and technology.

"Our ability to create the next generation of U.S. leaders in science and technology is seriously in danger," Alan Friedman, a member of the board that oversees the test, told The Associated Press. He added the percentage of students scoring at "basic" or below is particularly worrisome. "Advanced is advanced but basic is really basic. It doesn’t even mean a complete understanding of the most simple fundamentals."

In Hawaii, 50 percent of eighth-graders were "below basic," compared with 38 percent nationally.

Some 37 percent of Hawaii fourth-graders were "below basic," compared with 29 percent nationally.

Meanwhile, less than half of 1 percent of Hawaii fourth- and eighth-graders were "advanced."


» Hawaii eighth-graders scored lower than their peers in 41 states.
» Fourth-graders in the islands scored lower than students in 39 states.
» Hawaii’s fourth- and eighth-graders scored higher than just one state: Mississippi.
» Fourth-grade girls scored higher than boys in Hawaii.

Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress

The average score for eighth-graders in the islands was lower than those seen in 41 states, statistically the same as those in four and higher than only Mississippi. The average score for fourth-graders was lower than those in 39 states, and also higher than only Mississippi.

Four states did not participate in the test, administered in 2009.

Schools Superintendent Kathy Matayoshi said Hawaii’s fourth- and eighth-graders will take the national science assessment for 2011 next month. "When the results are released, we hope to see progress similar to achievement gains made in reading and mathematics," she said in a news release.

"In the meantime, we have our work cut out for us."

The poor scores for Hawaii come as the state Department of Education is working to boost achievement as part of sweeping reforms, and at a time of renewed emphasis on science education.

The department recently filled its position for an educational specialist for science — which had been vacant for two years. It is also working to develop a 10-year strategic plan for science in schools and is looking to improve science labs on campuses so students can meet more rigorous science standards.

Derrick Tsuruda, the new science educational specialist, said the DOE is trying to identify its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to science education and wants to increase training for science teachers. "Right now we are … developing a plan to improve science education," he said.

Jeff Piontek, president of the Hawaii Science Teachers Association’s board and head of Hawaii Technology Academy, said he thinks part of the reason Hawaii students scored so poorly in science is because much of the emphasis in recent years has been on reading and math under the federal No Child Left Behind law. He also said students do not get enough hands-on science education.

Before moving to HTA, Piontek was the DOE’s science educational specialist.

In public schools, he said, science "wasn’t a focus."

The science portion of NAEP was given to 150,000 students in fourth and eighth grades, and a nationally representative sample of 11,100 high school seniors. The last time it was administered was in 2005, but the test was updated in 2009, making a year-to-year comparison unreliable.

The exam tests knowledge and understanding of physical, life, Earth and space sciences.

Examples of skills students need 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 one-fifth of high school seniors 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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