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Science scores improving for U.S. students, but many still not proficient

By Stephen Feller
Science scores improving for U.S. students, but many still not proficient
The federal government has worked for several years with states and school districts to improve science education and attract more young students -- especially girls -- to get involved with the subject. Recent national test scores suggest the push is working. President Barack Obama, pictured delivering remarks at the White House Science Fair in April 2016, has pushed the cause hard during his seven years in office. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Although younger students in the United States have made gains in science and girls are eliminating long-standing gender gaps, older students were barely proficient in the subject based on their performance on a national science test.

The results of last year's National Assessment of Educational Progress suggest a renewed focus on science in education, specifically to get girls more excited and involved in the subject, is having a positive effect on younger students as their scores showed improvement.

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The push to inspire excitement in students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects, has grown out of a need of workers proficient in those areas. There has been a specific focus on getting young girls interested in STEM subjects because they have not traditionally gravitated toward them.

"Our nation's future is inextricably linked to how well we educate our students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said U.S. Secretary of Education John King. "Without a strong education in these vital disciplines, our nation cannot compete in a global economy."

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The science exam, given every few years, was administered in 2015 to 237,300 students in 46 states and covered science, life science, and earth and space sciences.

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Fourth- and eighth-grade students showed an improvement, increasing their average score to 154, from 150 in 2009, while 12th-grade students showed no improvement and kept their average score at 150.

Of 12th-graders, 78 percent were not proficient in the subject, garnering "basic" and "below basic" scores, with 20 percent ranking as proficient and 2 percent qualifying as "advanced."

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Among 8th-graders, 66 percent were at basic or below basic levels, 32 percent met requirements for proficiency and 2 percent qualified as advanced. Among 4th-graders, who performed the best, 62 percent were basic or below basic, 37 percent achieved proficient scores and 1 percent were advanced.

Fourth-grade girls closed the gender gap, gaining five points to even their average score with boys at 154, while girls at other grade levels improved their scores but did not close the gender gap.

While the 2015 scores show more work is needed for many students, the improvement suggests the focus on STEM is having a positive effect, especially on younger students who are improving their test performance across the board.

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"This is exactly what we like to see: All students improving but students at the bottom of the distribution making faster gains," said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

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