Most eighth-graders in the District, Virginia and Maryland did not pass a federal science test in 2011, even as they increased their scores slightly over those from 2009.
In Maryland, only 32 percent of students showed "proficiency" or higher on the 2011 Nation's Report Card, the results of which were released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education. The picture was only slightly sunnier in Virginia, where 40 percent of students understood with proficiency scientific concepts such as the collision of tectonic plates.
|Not making the grade|
|The percent of public school students passing, and the average score, on the Nation's Report Card in science:|
|Virginia||36% / 156||40% /160|
|Nation||30% / 149||31% / 151|
|Source: National Center for Education Statistics|
|Fifty-four percent of eighth-graders got this one right. Can you?|
|What atoms combine to make a water molecule?|
|a) 1 hydrogen, 1 oxygen|
|b) 1 hydrogen, 2 oxygen|
|c) 2 hydrogen, 1 oxygen|
|d) 2 hydrogen, 2 oxygen|
|Answer: C. Did you choose B? So did 34 percent of students, who likely thought the 2 in the chemical symbol corresponded to oxygen instead of hydrogen.|
Students in the District ranked last in the nation, as just 7 percent passed the federal test, with an average score of 112, well below the national average of 151 for public schools.
Nationwide, just one-third of eighth-graders made the grade on the science test.
"When you consider the importance of being scientifically literate in today's global economy, these scores are simply unacceptable," said Gerry Wheeler, interim executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.
Virginia ranked 13th in the nation, while Maryland -- whose average score was just one point above the national average -- ranked 30th. Both Maryland and Virginia made progress over 2009, with Maryland improving from 148 to 152 points, and Virginia jumping from 156 to 160. Scores improved in just 16 of the 47 states that participated in both 2009 and 2011; the District wasn't allowed to participate in the 2009 science testing because of its small population.
"Without question, today's report is a sobering reality check," said D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley. "Science proficiency is critical for eighth-grade students' high school, college and career readiness, and these results reflect a deficit that we will work diligently to overcome."
D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said she was "deeply disheartened," while Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said he was "deeply troubled." Both pledged to better implement the District's science standards, which topped the nation's in an independent report.
Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, noted that Maryland's four-point jump is among the bigger increases in the nation.
"But we know we have a long way to go to make certain all of our students are prepared in science and the other [science, technology, engineering and math] disciplines," Reinhard said.
Across the nation, only 54 percent of students could identify the atoms in a water molecule, while 15 percent could give a complete answer regarding an experiment about the life cycle of mosquitoes.
While math and reading have long been the bread and butter of American testing, science has surged in importance as the nation looks to keep up with technological advancements abroad and fill jobs focused on these fields.
Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation, said that STEM-related job openings have grown at triple the rate of unrelated jobs in the last 10 years.