WV public school students’ NAEP science scores flat

Ryan Quinn, Staff Writer

West Virginia fourth- and eighth-grade public school students in 2015 overall didn’t perform significantly better or worse on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s science portion than they did the last time science NAEP tests in those grades were given.

But the nation as a whole did see statistically significant improvements in those grades.

NAEP, the biggest nationally representative assessment of the nation’s students, is given to a sample of students in certain years. The science test is voluntary for states.

The 2015 results for NAEP’s math and reading sections were released last year. The 2015 science results were publicly released today after being privately shared with reporters earlier this week.

Like 24 other states, West Virginia had no statistically significant change in its average score for fourth-grade public school students between 2009, the last year the fourth-grade science test was given, and 2015. The Mountain State’s score in that category rose from 148 to 151 on the 300-point scale, while the nation’s average score for fourth-grade public school students rose from 149 to 153, which was deemed a statistically significant improvement.

Like 33 other states, West Virginia had no statistically significant gain in its average score for eighth-grade public school students between 2011, the last year the eighth-grade science test was given, and 2015. The Mountain State’s score in that category rose from 149 to 150, while the nation’s average score for eighth-grade public school students rose from 151 to 153, which was considered a statistically significant improvement.

West Virginia eighth-grade public school students’ average score did remain in 2015 statistically higher than it was in 2009, when the average score was 145.

Twelfth grade was the only other grade NAEP assessed, and it didn’t provide state-by-state results for that level. The national average score for 12th-graders was 150 both in 2015 and in 2009, the last year that portion of the test was given.

A news release from the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP, said results “cannot be compared with data from before 2009, when the new science framework was introduced.”
The release also said national results include private school students, while state results don’t, and that Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., did not have the necessary sample sizes for state-level reporting.

In 2015, West Virginia had 31 percent of public school fourth graders score “proficient” or higher on NAEP’s science portion. That percentage was significantly lower, statistically speaking, than the 37 percent national rate.

As for Mountain State public school eighth-graders, 27 percent scored “proficient” or higher on NAEP’s science portion. That was significantly lower, statistically speaking, than the 33 percent national rate.

Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, said in a conference call Wednesday that on NAEP, “proficient is solid academic performance.” In response to a Minnesota reporter’s question, she called that state’s 45 percent science proficiency rate for eighth graders encouraging.

She and Bill Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, said the national results were positive overall.

“The gaps are narrowing primarily because minority students are making greater gains,” Carr said. “There is no longer a gender gap at grade four.”

They said girls are taking more science courses.

Across the state this school year, West Virginia implemented new science education standards, which are the “performance expectations” from the Next Generation Science Standards national blueprint — save for once change. The state school board changed the word “rise” to “change” in the sixth-grade performance expectation, “ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.”

“We did look at the states who indicated they had adopted the [NGSS] standards and those who did not and we looked at their performance and there was no pattern,” Carr said. Bushaw noted the standards were only finalized in recent years and are still finding their way into classrooms.

“There is considerable overlap between what’s in the science framework for what we use in the NAEP assessment and the standards as they appear in the NGSS,” Bushaw said.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.