Maine science performance among top in nation

But NAEP results still point to need for more rigorous standards, commissioner says

AUGUSTA – Eighth graders in Maine scored higher than much of the nation in the most recent national science test, the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the state was one of only 16 to show improvement since 2009.

Thirty-seven percent of Maine students tested were proficient or better, meaning they’ve shown mastery of challenging subject matter, including application of such knowledge to real-world situations and appropriate analytical skills. Seventy-seven percent – up four percentage points from two years prior – scored “basic” or better, indicating partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills. These are both well above the national averages of 31 percent and 64 percent for the two categories.

But the real message, according to Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, is that we must do more to bolster the teaching of science in Maine and around the country.

“For the United States and Maine to remain leaders in a global economy we’re going to have to give our students a first-class education in science and related fields,” Bowen said. “This means a rigorous curriculum based on rigorous standards.”

Maine is one of 26 states leading an effort to develop and implement new science standards known as the Next Generation Science Standards. Led by the states, these new standards will move the focus away from memorization of science facts and, instead, emphasize learning concepts through experimentation and building an understanding of science concepts over time.

NAEP is the only national assessment that puts all states on the same scale and thus the only test that allows for comparisons among states. It is administered to a sample group of schools in each state and is separate from Maine’s own accountability assessments – the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) for English, writing and math in grades 3 through 8; the Maine High School Assessment in grade 11, which inincludes the SAT and a separate science test; and the Maine Education Assessment for science in grades 5 and 8. NAEP’s definition of “proficient” is more rigorous than in most states.

Below are some data highlights.

  • The average score in Maine is 160, compared to a national average of 151.
  • Five states scored higher than Maine; 10 jurisdictions (nine states and the Department of Defense Education Activity) scored in the same range; 36 scored lower.
  • Maine is one of 16 states to show a statistically significant increase in its score from two years earlier (from 158).
  • The percentage of students scoring at or above proficient was 37 percent, compared to 31 percent nationally.

For detailed information on Maine’s scores on the NAEP website, go to http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/main2011/2012465.asp.

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