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Assessment: Science Scores Stay Flat in N.M.

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New Mexico’s science scores have not changed significantly in the past two years, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The test, sometimes called the Nation’s Report Card, is taken every two years by a sample of eighth-graders from each state.

New Mexico’s average score was near the bottom nationally, with 41 states performing better than New Mexico. New Mexico students scored similarly to those in Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana and Illinois, and outperformed those in California, Mississippi, Alabama, Hawaii and Washington, D.C.

The good news is New Mexico narrowed the gap between Hispanic and Anglo students. Although Anglo students still performed an average of 21 percentage points higher than Hispanics, that’s down from a 27-point gap in 2009, when students last took the test. Nationwide, Hispanic students made stronger progress than any other group. In general, NAEP scores inched up nationwide, and they improved in 16 states.

Students in New Mexico had an average score of 145, compared to a national average of 152. Students must score 170 to be considered “proficient.” Of New Mexico students who took the test, 22 percent scored “proficient” or higher. The NAEP test is more challenging than nearly all state proficiency tests, and 57 percent of students scored at or above the “basic” level, which is more comparable to most state tests.

Sample NAEP questions, which are available online, show that the topics tested include movement of tectonic plates, characteristics of cells, the Periodic Table and soil permeability. And while some questions are multiple choice, others require students to think critically and use the scientific method. For example, one question tells the story of two farmers, who notice some bean plants are much taller than others growing in the same field. Students are directed to design an experiment to determine whether the difference is caused by inherited traits or by the amount of water the plants get.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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