The gains are real. Tennessee Tops U.S. Education Report Card in Science
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The 2015 National Report Card released Thursday, states Utah and Tennessee, which were tied for first place with the largest overall gains in science with a nine-point gain.
The 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the Nation’s Report Card, released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Education in a presentation led by the state’s Governor Bill Haslam and TDOE Commissioner, Candice McQueen.
To emphasize the state’s appreciation for the growth in science in all grades, the students and faculty were honored with the speaker, Barry “Butch” Wilmore, a U.S. Astronaut who has done several tours on the International Space Station. The three will travel the state to celebrate the gains made in science.
How did students score?
Tennessee students achieved what no other state did.
Student scores on the 2015 NAEP in science doubled the national average in student growth in both tested grades and scored above the national average for the first time ever in any subject, launching students into the top half of all states in fourth and eighth grade science.
Tennessee’s students are the fastest improving in the nation—this time in the core subject of science.
Even better, Tennessee outperformed other states with impressive closures in their achievement gaps.
Narrowing the Gap
The state narrowed gaps among African American, Latino, and white students, and completely eliminated the performance gap between male and female students.
This is remarkable in light of the sobering news that the vast majority of U.S. students still lack a solid grasp of science despite some modest gains by fourth and eighth graders, especially girls and minorities.
The problem is particularly acute among the nation’s high school seniors.
“We still are not at a place as a country where we are preparing the future STEM workforce that we need,” Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said referring to science, technology, engineering and math courses. “We think there’s significant work still to do, but we are heartened by the progress that we see in these results.”
Governor Haslam, delighted with the results, credited the STEM programs as a strong factor to the state’s growth in all areas of science.
Governor Haslam explained at the press conference, “I believe state-wide our focus on STEM programs has paid off in results. We have more and more students in both genders focused on programs that fall under STEM but it is our teachers who are doing an incredible job of cranking up the expectations of as well as the exposure to high level science.”
Tennessee has placed a high level of focus on closing gaps between minorities and gender by strategically pushing the lower levels of the gaps up while holding steady, lifting and preventing the higher levels from dipping to close the gap.
Commissioner McQueen stated, “in fact, it was the opposite—every single student group improved, and we still tightened or eliminated gaps in performance. It is not enough to close the gap, we are thrilled that no gap tightened with a dip from the top of the gap.”
Then and Now
Average scores on the science exam, nationally were up four points in grades four and eight, and unchanged for 12th grade, compared to 2009.
The results also show that fourth-grade girls had closed the gender gap and were now performing as well as boys. In eighth grade, that gender gap had tightened.
The state’s 2015 results maintained the unprecedented growth with a new class of students, proving the gains were real.
Those results also gave the state its highest ranking until today — 25th in fourth grade math.
Tennessee has a goal to rank in the top half of all states on the Nation’s Report Card by 2019, and these results put the state in the top 25 on three of those assessments.
“We’ve achieved this by raising our expectations and letting our students show us what they can do. Today’s announcement reflects that what we are doing in Tennessee is working. Most importantly, this milestone is a tremendous testament to the hard work of you and your students” as stated in the release by the TDOE Thursday.
Nationally, the test results showed that 38 percent of fourth-grade students were considered proficient or above in science. In eighth grade, 34 percent were proficient or above. Only 22 percent of 12th graders scored proficient or above. The rest were at or below the basic level.
“It is exciting, encouraging and incredibly meaningful because all Tennessee students who are going to want more opportunities in the fields of science are going to have that opportunity because they are going to be prepared in the right way, ” Governor Haslam explained. “We know these results are only possible because teachers show up every day with the creativity and passion to deliver a world-class education these students.”
How Tennessee Compares
At the state level, Arizona had the biggest gain for fourth graders, scoring 11 points higher on the exam compared with 2009. Tennessee and Georgia followed, each with an eight-point gain. In eighth grade, the winners were Utah and Tennessee, which tied for first place with a nine-point gain, followed by South Carolina and Mississippi, which each had an eight-point score gain over 2009. State-level results were not available for 12th grade.
The Nation’s Report Card is the largest nationally representative continuing assessment of what American students know and don’t know in various subjects. The science test measures students’ knowledge of physical science, life science, and Earth and space sciences.