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NAEP scores show hands-on science matters

By Anita Krishnamurthi

 The results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science for grades 4, 8, and 12 were released today. The results are dismaying – only about a third of students have a solid grasp of science at the 4th and 8th grade levels and that number drops to 21% for high school students. The extremes are even more troubling: only 1-2% of students at each grade level achieve at an “advanced” level that demonstrates true comprehension and grasp of the concepts, while a large percentage (30-40%) are performing at the “below basic” level.   There are already many news reports and analyses of the results (see for example the Education Week article on this topic), so I will focus on how this report is relevant to afterschool.   

Dr. Alan Friedman, one of the panelists discussing the report, specifically addressed the positive impact of hands-on science and science learning opportunities outside of the school day. We followed up on his remark to see what the NAEP scores say on this matter, and what we found is extremely significant for afterschool! Those who did hands-on science activities (4th grade) or science-related activities outside of school (8th and 12th grades) showed a significant increase in test scores compared to those who did not have such opportunities. Further, it appears that the “dosage” matters. As measured in 4th grade, the students who did hands-on science almost daily scored better than those who could do it only once or twice a month. This has big implications for the way science teaching and learning should be approached as we go forward because the NAEP test assessed students’ comprehension of concepts rather than whether they could memorize and then recite facts and numbers. Take a look at the results of our data analysis to see just how much of an impact these opportunities have on students’ NAEP scores.

We hope that policymakers pay attention to these results and begin to consider afterschool programs an integral part of the science learning environment. Afterschool programs focus on hands-on learning and helping children and youth see the relevance and applicability of content they are studying – precisely what the NAEP scores are showing students need.  

For more on the NAEP science results, visit
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