Maryland's fifth- and eighth-graders scored slightly better on their annual science exam this past school year; however, the gap in performance is growing between special-education students and their peers.

In fifth grade, 67 percent of students passed while 70 percent of eighth-graders passed. Unlike reading and math, the science test is not used to calculate whether a school met targets set by the federal government.

The mixed results show that after four years of giving the test, students have not improved their performance significantly.

Leslie Wilson, who is in charge of testing for the state, said the results mirror those in math and reading after the test was given in those subjects for four years.

Middle-school results are believed to be stronger than elementary school, Wilson said, because students must take a science class while in middle school. In elementary schools, the teaching of science is sometimes reduced so that a school can concentrate more time on reading or math.

In special education, one-third of fifth-graders and 30 percent of eighth-graders in the state passed.

Baltimore County's fifth-grade science scores went up slightly and the eighth-grade scores were flat. Sixty-five percent of fifth-graders passed and 72 percent of eighth-graders did.

In Baltimore City, the fifth grade dropped 3 percentage points to 36 percent passing while eighth-graders rose 3 percentage points to 37.6 percent. The city scores were 30 percentage points below the state average.

Howard County had some of the highest scores in the region, with 87 percent of eighth-graders and 77 percent of fifth-graders passing. In Anne Arundel, 79 percent of eighth-graders and 77 percent of fifth-graders passed the test.

The Maryland State Department of Education announced the science results Tuesday, just as the National Research Council released a new framework for what students should be taught in science from kindergarten through 12th grade. The framework places more weight on teaching engineering as well as science and reduces the number of core concepts taught in a year.

In a statement, the National Science Teachers Association said that the framework "has the potential to bring about transformational changes in science education."

Because Maryland is part of a national effort to create new standards for most of the major subjects being taught, the framework may form the basis for revamping science teaching in the state.

Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, the long-term effort by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to improve science education, said teachers in the state will recognize some of the framework.

"I think they will be heartened to see they have been recommending all along the ideas that the scientific community deems important. I don't think [the framework] will be controversial."

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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