"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The NAEP Science Results: Inconsistent with American success in science: Are the Achievement Levels too high? And why ELLs scores are low.

The NAEP Science Results: Inconsistent with American success in science: Are the Achievement Levels too high? And why ELLs scores are low.
Stephen Krashen

The NAEP Science grade 8 results have been announced, and, as usual, it has stimulated reports about how poorly our students have done, accompanied by pious pronouncements about the need to improve science education.

The problem, we are told, is that only 32% of the students scored at or above the “proficient” level and only 65% performed at or above the “basic” level. This sounds terrible. It has been argued, however, that the NAEP achievement levels are set much too high, giving the impression that our students are doing much worse than they really are. In 2008, Bracey noted that:

“the NAEP results do not mesh with those from international comparisons. In the 1995 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, assessment, American 4th graders finished third among 26 participating nations in science, but the NAEP science results from the same year stated that only 31 percent of them were proficient or better.”
(See also Bracey, 2003.)

The NAEP results also do not mesh with American standings in achievement in science. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, the US leads the world in filings for new patents (http://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2011/article_0004.html). According to the World Economic Federation, the US ranks third out of 143 countries in the number of patents for new inventions (per capita), only slightly behind Taiwan and Japan. Also, the US ranks fourth in "availability of scientists & engineers," seventh in "quality of scientific research institutions" and third in "university-industry research collaboration."

The ELL question

As usual, English language learners scored far below the mean, and far below the “basic” level (my source for this is Education Week; http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning-the-language/2012/05/naep_science_results_are_grim_.html. I was unable to find the ELL scores in the NAEP report).

NAEP informs us, however, that there is no clear definition of who is ELL - states have different criteria for classifying students as ELL (Science 2011, p6). And as usual there seems to be little awareness that ELL students should score poorly, because they are ELLs and because the NAEP science test requires a high level of English competence. A student classified as ELL who does well on the NAEP science test should probably not be classified as ELL.

Additional Note: The mean for students not eligible for free and reduced price lunch was 164, just below the demanding proficient level (170), and far above the basic level (141), confirming that middle class students in the US do quite well on standardized tests.


Science 2011. The Nation’s Report Card: National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grade 8. National Center for Educational Statistics, US Department of Education. NCES 2012-465. ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS AT GRADE 8

Bracey, G. 2003. NAEP Achievement Levels: Inappropriate Statistics Unethically Used; http://susanohanian.org/show_research.php?id=12)

Bracey, G. 2008. Cut Scores, NAEP achievement Levels and Their Discontents, The School Administrator June 2008 Number 6, Vol. 65. http://www.aasa.org/SchoolAdministratorArticle.aspx?id=5096

The Global Competitiveness Report, 2011-2012. World Economic Federation, Geneva.

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