Science needs top priority

The good news is that eighth-graders in the in the U.S. are doing better in science than they were two years ago. The bad news is that seven out of 10 still are not considered proficient, the government reported Thursday.

In Washington, the good news is that eighth-graders did better than the national average in science. The bad news is that two-thirds of the middle school students who took the national science assessment still aren’t proficient in the subject, the Associated Press reported.

Just 2 percent of eighth-graders in the country have the advanced skills that could lead to careers in the field, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, released by the U.S. Department of Education, AP reported. The test was given last year to more than 120,000 eighth-graders from 7,300 schools. Of the 47 states that participated in the exam, 16 saw small increases in their scores. Most states had flat scores.

The average score was 152, up from 150 in 2009. The average score in Washington for science was 156, a few points above the national average and up only slightly from Washington’s scores in 2009, the last year the science test was given. The state’s eighth graders did better than 26 other states and jurisdictions, and about the same as 11 others.

Another small positive in Washington’s scores: Hispanic students improved their average scores by about 10 points since the science test was last given to eighth graders in 2009. They’re still far behind their white classmates, however, when the percentage who score proficient is compared: 17 percent versus 43 percent.

Although the gains in science scores are small, all gains are encouraging. It’s also reassuring that the problem is being taken seriously at the federal and state level. The Education Department and states have been working to increase the number of top-notch science teachers in schools. The department has a goal of preparing 100,000 new science teachers over the next decade through incentive programs and bonuses for teachers certified in the subject, AP reported.

Some states, like Georgia, pay science teachers more than their colleagues in other subjects in hopes of encouraging more college students to go into the field.

Such investments have a proven payoff — attracting highly skilled instructors who can truly educate, and excite students about the endless possibilities in the field of science.

(Want to test your science skills? The Christian Science Monitor offers a “Are you scientifically literate?” quiz on its website.)