States’ Varying Performance in Science Sub-Page

 Excerpt taken from a report by Change The Equation:

If you’re a parent in Virginia, and the state tells you your 8th-grade daughter is “proficient” in science, you would likely think she’s on track to succeed in high school and beyond. Think again. Your “proficient” daughter might be performing in the bottom quartile of all 8th graders nationwide.  Moreover, had she taken another state’s science test, like Louisiana’s, she may not have been considered “proficient” by a long shot.

How is it possible that the performance of one 8th-grade girl could be described in such dramatically different ways? The first-ever analysis of states’ 8th-grade science tests finds that states have radically different targets for what their 8th graders should know and be able to do. At a time when the demand for robust skills and knowledge in science has gone global, “proficiency” may have more to do with where you live than what you have learned. This hodgepodge of differing state curricula undercuts a major reason why we have tests in the first place: to provide reliable information on how well we’re preparing students for the challenges of the global economy.

The gaps among states are enormous. The least demanding state set the bar for “proficient performance” near 112 on the 300-point scale of the National Assessment of Educational Process (NAEP). That is far below 141, NAEP’s cutoff for “Basic performance.” The most demanding state set it near 181, well above 170, where NAEP set the bar for proficiency. Students considered “proficient” in the two least demanding states might be in the bottom quartile of all students across the country, while those considered “proficient” in the two most demanding states are in the top quartile. In all, 15 of the 37 states we examined set the bar for proficiency below NAEP’s threshold for “Basic.” Only four states set the bar near or above NAEP’s cutoff for “Proficient.”

So what does “proficiency” in 8th-grade science really mean? Does it mean, as many parents might assume, that students are being prepared for college and rewarding careers? The answer in most states is probably “no.” Two-thirds of the states we studied reported that most of their 8th-grade students were proficient in science in 2009. By contrast, ACT reported that, in 2009, only 13 percent of U.S. 8th graders were on track to do well in future introductory college science courses.

For full results and more information about Change The Equation’s methodology, visit