Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 2000. EA 2.3 Science Proficiency for Children Ages 9, 13, and 17

01/01/2000

One of the National Education Goals for the year 2000, adopted by Congress, is to improve the relative standing of students in the United States in science achievement.33 In a 1995 comparison of 8th graders in the United States with 8th-graders in 40 other countries, the
Third International Math and Science Study showed that students in the United States had significantly lower overall science proficiency scores than students in 9 countries, had similar scores to students in 16 countries, and had higher scores than students in 15 countries.34

In order to present time trends in science proficiency levels, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports five different proficiency levels, ranging from Level 150 (knows everyday science facts) to Level 350 (integrates specialized scientific information).35 The following tables report the average science proficiency scores of students in the three age groups between 1977 and 1996.

Trends in Science Proficiency Scores. Average science proficiency scores have increased among all age groups since 1977. Among 9-year-olds, average science proficiency scores increased between 1977 (220) and 1994 (231) and remained stable through 1996 (230) (see Table EA 2.3.A). Similarly, among 13-year-olds, average scores increased between 1977 (247) and 1994 (257) and remained constant through 1996 (256) (see Table EA 2.3.B). Among 17-year-olds, average science proficiency scores declined between 1977 (290) and 1982 (283), after which they increased to 296 in 1996 (see Table EA 2.3.C). Thus, gains in science proficiency levels among 17-year-olds from 1977 to 1996 were not as great as gains for the other two age groups.

Differences by Gender. Average science proficiency scores have been consistently higher for males than females over time and for all age groups, though differences are smaller among 9-year-olds. Among 13-year-olds in 1996, boys scored on average 9 points higher than girls; among 17-year-olds, the average difference was 8 points; and among 9-year-olds, males scored on average 4 points higher than females.

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin.36 There are large differences in science proficiency scores by race and Hispanic origin among all age groups. For example, among 17-year-olds in 1996, whites had higher average science proficiency scores (307) than blacks (260) or Hispanics (269) (see Table EA 2.3.C); however, black 17-year-olds had especially high gains in achievement since 1977 (see Figure EA 2.3). Black 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds also showed high gains in science achievement over time.

Differences by Parents’ Education Level.37 Average science proficiency levels vary dramatically by level of parents’ education.38 For example, among 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds in 1996, the lowest average science proficiency scores were among teens whose better-educated parent did not have a high school education, while the highest scores were among teens who had a parent who had graduated from college. In 1996, the average science proficiency score among 13-year-old children of parents with a college education (266) was similar to the average score among 17-year-old children of parents without a high school diploma (261) (see Tables EA 2.3.B and EA 2.3.C).

Differences by Type of School. Average science proficiency scores have been consistently higher among students attending nonpublic schools than among students attending public schools. This is true for every age group and every year reported (see Tables EA 2.3.A, EA 2.3.B, and EA 2.3.C).

 

33 National Education Goals Panel. 1997.
34 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 1997.
35 NAEP has regularly been conducting assessments of students in public and private schools in the United States in order to monitor trends in academic achievement in core curriculum areas since the 1970s. NAEP uses proficiency scales that range from 0 to 350. To give meaning to the results, students’ performance is characterized at five levels along the proficiency scales (150, 200, 250, 300, 350).
36 Estimates for whites and blacks exclude Hispanics of those races.
37 Parents’ education level refers to the highest level of education completed by either parent.
38 Parents’ education is not reported at age 9 because approximately one-third of these students did not know their parents’ education level.

 

Table EA 2.3.A Average science proficiency for children age 9 in the United States, by gender, race and Hispanic origin,a and type of school: Selected years, 1977-1996

  1977 1982 1986 1990 1992 1994 1996
Total 220 221 224 229 231 231 230
Gender
Male 222 221 227 230 235 232 232
Female 218 221 221 227 227 230 228
Race and Hispanic origin
White a 230 229 232 238 239 240 239
Black a 175 187 196 196 200 201 202
Hispanic b 192 189 199 206 205 201 207
Type of school
Public 218 220 223 228 229 230 229
Nonpublic 235 232 233 237 240 242 238

a Non-Hispanic.
b Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Note: The science proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 350:
Level 150: Knows everyday science facts
Level 200: Understands simple scientific principles
Level 250: Applies general scientific information
Level 300: Analyzes scientific procedures and data
Level 350: Integrates specialized scientific information
Source: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue, 1997, Table A.16.

 

Table EA 2.3.B Average science proficiency for children age 13 in the United States, by gender, race and Hispanic origin,a parents’ education level,b and type of school: Selected years, 1977-1996

  1977 1982 1986 1990 1992 1994 1996
Total 247 250 251 255 258 257 256
Gender
Male 251 256 256 259 260 259 261
Female 244 245 247 252 256 254 252
Race and Hispanic origin
White a 256 257 259 264 267 267 266
Black a 208 217 222 226 224 224 226
Hispanic b 213 226 226 232 238 232 232
Parents’ education level c
Less than high school 224 225 229 233 234 234 232
Graduated high school 245 243 245 247 246 247 248
Some education after high school 260 259 258 263 266 260 260
Graduated college 266 264 264 268 269 269 266
Type of school
Public 245 249 251 254 257 255 255
Nonpublic 268 264 263 269 265 268 268

a Non-Hispanic.
b Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
c Parents’ education level refers to the highest level of education completed by either parent.
Note: The science proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 350:
Level 150: Knows everyday science facts
Level 200: Understands simple scientific principles
Level 250: Applies general scientific information
Level 300: Analyzes scientific procedures and data
Level 350: Integrates specialized scientific information
Source: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue. 1997. Table A.17.

 

Table EA 2.3.C Average science proficiency for children age 17 in the United States, by gender, race and Hispanic origina, parents’ education levelb, and type of school: Selected years, 1977-1996

  1977 1982 1986 1990 1992 1994 1996
Total 290 283 289 290 294 294 296
Gender
Male 297 292 295 296 299 300 300
Female 282 275 282 285 289 289 292
Race and Hispanic origin
White a 298 293 298 301 304 306 307
Black a 240 235 253 253 256 257 260
Hispanic b 262 249 259 262 270 261 269
Parents’ education level c
Less than high school 265 259 258 261 262 256 261
Graduated high school 284 275 277 276 280 279 282
Some education after high school 296 290 295 297 296 295 297
Graduated college 309 300 304 306 308 311 308
Type of school
Public 288 282 287 289 292 292 295
Nonpublic 308 292 321 308 312 310 303

a Non-Hispanic.
b Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
c Parents’ education level refers to the highest level of education completed by either parent.
Note: The science proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 350:
Level 150: Knows everyday science facts
Level 200: Understands simple scientific principles
Level 250: Applies general scientific information
Level 300: Analyzes scientific procedures and data
Level 350: Integrates specialized scientific information
Source: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue. 1997. Table A.18.

 

Figure EA 2.3 Average science proficiency for children age 17 in the United States, by race and Hispanic origin: a Selected years, 1977-1996

a Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Note: The science proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 350.
Level 150: Knows everyday science facts
Level 200: Understands simple scientific principles
Level 250: Applies general scientific information
Level 300: Analyzes scientific procedures and data
Level 350: Integrates specialized scientific information
Source: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue. 1997. Table A.18.

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