Students might be able to fill in the right answers on a national assessment of science learning, but they don't necessarily have a deep understanding of the material.
American students are more successful at correctly completing simple scientific tasks than they are at explaining how they used evidence to draw their conclusions, according to the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as "The Nation's Report Card."
The NAEP results released Tuesday represent a sampling of U.S. students in grades 4, 8, and 12 who participated in interactive science assessments in 2009. Some of the questions involved what are known as "hands on tasks," while others were "interactive computer tasks." The assessments measure the students' grasp of prior knowledge -- material covered in class -- as well as their ability to predict, observe and explain outcomes based on the evidence provided.
That cognitive leap -- from choosing the right answer and being able to articulate how it was reached -- matters, said Alan Friedman, chairman of the assessment development committee for the National Assessment Government Board, which sets policy for NAEP.
"Science and technology would be easy if all our challenges could be solved with simple memorization of accepted facts, and purely procedural application of known principles and laws," Friedman said at a press conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C. to announce the NAEP results. "In the real world, things are messy and one size does not fit all."