The computer tasks eliminated limits of geography and time, so students could virtually see, for example, how a plant given a certain amount of sunlight would grow without waiting days or weeks to see the actual process.

Though the tests raised significant questions about students’ abilities to apply scientific knowledge to the real world, they at least seemed to enjoy taking them, according to Peggy Carr, associate commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics.

Carr usually observes students losing interest in the traditional NAEP tests. “Not so with these assessments,” Carr said.

In the hands-on tasks, female students in every grade outdid their male counterparts by 2 to 4 percentage points, on average. Girls also scored slightly better than male students in grades eight and 12 on interactive computer tasks.

This gender gap shows a reversal from the traditional NAEP tests in which eighth-grade boys scored at least four points higher on average than their female peers in 2009 and 2011

White and Asian-Pacific Islander students outperformed black and Hispanic students in the hands on tasks, and Asian/Pacific Islander students achieved higher scores on average than other students in all grades’ computerized assessments.

The lowest scoring group in both assessments was 12th grade black students. They answered 19 percent of computerized questions correctly, whereas their Asian-Pacific Islander counterparts passed 33 percent.