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South Dakota students outperform nation in science

Results of the science portion of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress were released last month, and South Dakota’s scores are at the top.

At grade 8, South Dakota’s average scale score was 161, compared to the national average of 149. Only one state scored higher than South Dakota, five scored about the same, and 40 scored lower.

At grade 4, South Dakota’s average scale score was 157, compared to the national average of 149. Only eight states scored higher than South Dakota, nine scored about the same, and 29 scored lower.

“These results are a testament to South Dakota’s schools, teachers and students,” said Dr. Melody Schopp, interim secretary of the South Dakota Department of Education.

When reviewing assessment data, state leaders look at achievement gaps between various sub-groups, with a particular focus on American Indian students since they are the state’s largest minority population. At the 4th grade level, South Dakota’s American Indian students scored below the national average for that sub-group. But by 8th grade, the state’s American Indian students scored at the national average.

“We would like to think this might be due to efforts targeting middle school students through South Dakota’s GEAR Up program, but we’ll need to do some investigating before we can say that for certain,” Schopp said. South Dakota’s GEAR Up program is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. It begins working with students when they enter middle school.

Another area that deserves watching is the gap between the scores of males and females. That gap grows between 4th and 8th grade. “As a society, we’ve got to pay special attention to nurturing our young girls in the area of science – building their skills, but even more so, building their confidence,” Schopp said.

For more information about NAEP science scores, go to http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/