Idaho tops national average on science exam

Idaho students topped the national average in a 2015 standardized science test.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tested fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders in science — and on Thursday morning, NAEP released state results for fourth and eighth grades. NAEP tests are not given in all schools in Idaho or elsewhere, but are instead administered to a sample of U.S. schools.

The Idaho highlights:

  • The state’s fourth-grade average came in at 156 on a 300-point scale. That’s above the national average of 153. Idaho’s scores are also up slightly from 2009, when the state average came in at 154.
  • Idaho’s eighth-grade marks were even better. The state’s average score was 160, ranking No. 9 nationally and topping the national average of 153. Again, Idaho showed slight improvement over time, from a 2009 average of 158 and a 2011 average of 159.

The NAEP scores come as Idaho is ramping up its emphasis on the so-called “STEM” disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math — in the belief that a STEM focus will better prepare Idaho graduates for the workplace. The 2015 Legislature funded a new STEM Action Center, housed under Gov. Butch Otter’s office. The center’s main effort in 2016 is the launch of a new state computer science initiative.

Despite Thursday’s solid NAEP scores, Idaho still has work to do.

The report revealed large, statistically significant achievement gaps between white and Latino students — a 28-point gap in fourth grade, and a 24-point gap in eighth grade.

The report also revealed lingering socioeconomic gaps. Fourth-graders who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch scored 19 points lower on the science NAEP. For eighth-graders, this gap was 16 points.

Idaho also has a science gender gap. Fourth-grade boys scored two points better on the NAEP than girls; eighth-grade boys scored four points higher than girls.

In both fourth and eighth grade, national NAEP scores increased to 154, up from 150 in 2009. The average 12th-grade score remained unchanged at 150.

The NAEP science test covers three broad areas — physical science, life science and earth and space science. Students are then tested on four scientific practices: identifying science principles, using science principles, using scientific inquiry and using technological design.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. For a national perspective, here’s a story from National Public Radio.