Students near bottom in science test

The Associated Press
Wednesday November 21, 2001

SACRAMENTO — The scores of California students were among the worst in the country in a national science exam given last year to fourth and eighth graders, state officials said Tuesday. 

State school Superintendent Delaine Eastin said the results of the 2000 National Assessment of Education Progress “reflect the reality that in California” that science classes have not been taught regularly in many school districts. 

“We are short of teachers, labs and a real sense of urgency about science,” despite the fact the state is the home of the Silicon Valley computer industry, Eastin said. 

California eighth graders who took the test had an average score of 132, down from 138 in 1996, the last time the test was given. Nationally the average score increased from 149 to 150 in the same period. 

The average score for California fourth graders was 131 compared to a national average of 148. Fourth graders were not tested in 1996. 

California had the lowest average score among fourth graders and was tied with Hawaii for lowest average score among eighth graders. 

Twelfth graders also took the exam but their scores were not broken down by states. 

Scores can range from zero to 300. 

Forty-one states took part in the voluntary exam. 

Eastin suggested that California scores will begin to improve in 2003, when state tests for elementary and middle school students will begin to include science questions. Currently the state testing program does not include a science component until the ninth grade. 

“As I have always said, ‘What gets measured is what gets done,”’ Eastin said. 

The state Board of Education will rework plans for science curriculums early next year. Eastin said that will be a “critical component” to make the state’s science standards are taught. 

Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for Gov. Gray Davis, said the national tests were given early in 2000 and did not reflect improved training for teachers and administrators adopted since then. 

“We’ve turned a corner since” then, she said. 

Schools that took part in the exam were selected to try to get a representative sample, state officials said. But they questioned whether the relatively small number of California fourth and eighth graders who took the exam — 3,300 — accurately reflected student achievement. 

California, they said, also has the highest percentage of students still learning to speak English, which could have held down the state’s scores.