Georgia science scores on national exam show improvement

Science scores for Georgia's eighth-graders are on the rise, matching their peers across the country on a national test released Thursday.

Standardized science test scores for eighth-graders taking the  2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed a 4-point increase, bringing the state's score 151 -- the same as the national average. The overall growth rate for the nation was 2 points.

State officials attribute the gains to increased rigor in the science curriculum and an effort to make the subject an important part of evaluating a school's performance.

"Georgia’s students and teachers have much to be proud of with these results,” state Superintendent John Barge said. "The national average, however, is not where we want to stay. As we implement the new accountability measures that place equal emphasis on achievement in science as we do in math, English/language arts and reading, we will continue to see those scores increase in science.”

The NAEP is given to a representative sampling of students from each state across the nation. The test is scored on a scale from 0 to 300 and is also broken down into four scoring categories: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced.

In Georgia, a random and diverse pool of  2,367 eighth-graders took the test.

Among the test highlights:

• The average science score for white students in Georgia increased from 161 in 2009 to 166 in 2011.

• Black students’ average score increased from 129 in 2009 to 133 in 2011.

• Scores for Hispanic students increased from 137 in 2009 to 143 in 2011.

• In 2011, the gap between the average score for black students and white students was 33 points for Georgia, which was smaller than the nation (35 points).

• The gap between the average score for Hispanic students and white students was 23 points for Georgia, which was also smaller than the nation (27 points).

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa applauded the increase.

“It’s a strong sign that by focusing on and pushing high standards and high expectations our students and teachers will rise to the occasion,” he said. But he said the state must push even more.

In Gwinnett County, Calvin Watts, associate superintendent for teaching and learning support, said the district's focus on science, technology and engineering in math is helping to improve science test scores.

The district has a charter school focused on the areas and integrates the subjects into the k-12 curriculum. Elementary school students participate in hands-on experiments in science and engineering labs, and middle school students are using interactive technology and online text books to experience science-related careers and case studies up close.

Watts said the effort has strengthened the academics, knowledge and skills of students in science. “We realize that our workforce does need to include problem solvers, innovators and inventors. They need to think critically, and as educators we need to think critically about developing those skills in our students.”