The test was given last year to more than 120,000 eighth-graders from 7,300 schools. Of the 47 states that participated in the exam, 16 saw small increases in their scores. Most states had flat scores compared with 2009.
The national testing program mandated by Congress also tests fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders students in math, reading, and other subjects.
The results also indicated there are significant differences between states.
In Mississippi, just 18 percent of students were proficient and no students scored in the advanced category, the worst performance in the country. Montana and North Dakota saw the best performance, with 44 percent of students scoring proficient or better. California saw 22 percent of eighth-graders reach proficiency, compared with 30 percent in Georgia.
There are a variety of factors that likely contribute to the lackluster results, experts said. Many blame the results as an unintended side effect of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which puts more emphasis on math and reading than it does on science, history, arts, and other subjects.
Others say the country’s best college students majoring in science rarely go into teaching—instead choosing other, higher paying fields—which means some children aren’t getting high-quality instruction in the subject.
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The exam tests knowledge and understanding of physical, life, Earth, and space sciences. Students were asked to identify chemically similar elements on the periodic table, name a function of the human organ system, and explain the effects of human land use on wildlife.
The test also was given in 2005, but it was changed significantly in 2009, making a comparison before then unreliable. The test was supposed to be given every four years, but federal officials moved it up so it can be compared to international tests given in the same year.
Results from the 2005 exam also were concerning: Only 29 percent of fourth- and eighth-grade students scored proficient or better, as did just 18 percent of 12th-graders tested.
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