New Jersey Eighth-Graders Score Just About Average on National Science Test

May 10, 2012

Eighth-graders in New Jersey perform slightly above average in science, according to results of a 2011 national exam released Thursday. But while performance improved nationally from 2009, results in New Jersey were flat — placing the state in the middle of the pack.

The average score on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, was 155 in New Jersey, the same as in 2009. Nationally, the average score increased from 150 to 152 on a scale of 0 to 300. The score gap between low-income, Hispanic and black students and their state-termed “nondisadvantaged” peers did close slightly nationally, but remained flat at more than 30 points in New Jersey. Boys scored on average about five points higher than girls.

“The gains are encouraging, but the racial and gender gaps show a cause for concern,” David P. Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, said in a statement.

The New Jersey Department of Education released a statement noting that the state had the ninth-largest achievement gap between low-income and non-low-income students. Low-income students are identified as those eligible for the national free and reduced-fee meal program.

The Christie administration issued a statement Thursday reaffirming the need for new science standards currently under development.

“New Jersey students continue to do well by nearly every objective measure compared to the rest of the country, but we still have more work to do to ensure that every student in New Jersey has the knowledge and skills necessary to be ready for the demands of the 21st century,” acting Commissioner Chris Cerf said, adding that New Jersey is a lead partner with 25 other states in developing the Next Generation Science Standards expected by the end of this year.

According to the NAEP report, 34 percent of all eighth-graders in New Jersey scored at least proficient on the science test, with just 2 percent scoring at the advanced level. Another 35 percent scored at the basic level, and 31 percent were deemed below basic.

Nationally, 31 percent of students were at least proficient, 34 percent scored in the basic level and 36 percent were below basic.

Massachusetts and Montana were the top two states, with 44 percent of eighth-graders achieving at the proficient level or higher.

Nationally, 16 states performed statistically better than New Jersey, and 21 states performed worse. New Jersey was statistically similar to 14 states or jurisdictions. The NAEP is given to a representative sampling of students in each participating state.

The results come amid a national effort to put more emphasis on the so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement calling on states to enhance teacher preparation and training, and to attract new and qualified science teachers.

“We will continue the push to prepare 100,000 effective math and science teachers over the next decade, and support initiatives to increase pay for teachers in high-need subjects like science,” Duncan said.

The NAEP results will also be compared to other countries in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study due out later this year.