Science test scores in Prince George’s County schools inched up in the 2011-2012 school year, but officials say it’s not yet time to celebrate a new focus on science, technology, engineering and math.
The percentage of students scoring proficient or better on Maryland State Assessment — the standardized tests for Maryland students — for fifth-graders rose from 55.1 percent in 2010-2011 to 58 percent and from 47.7 to 50.4 percent of eighth-graders. The Maryland State Department of Education announced the scores on Aug. 17.
Of the 165 schools where the test, which is only given to fifth and eighth grades, 101 increased the percentage of students scoring proficient or higher. Eight elementary schools increased proficiency by more than 20 percentage points, with Glassmanor Elementary in Oxon Hill and Skyline Elementary in Suitland improving by more than 30 percentage points.
Other schools saw steep declines, with 12 elementary dropping proficiency levels by 10 points or more, and four dropping more than 20 points.
Large jumps and drops don’t reveal much of a pattern, Arbogast said, mostly because the number of students taking the test is so small that only a few students can throw the numbers one way or another.
“Because only one grade [at each school] is tested, variability can be enormous,” he said.
“The science [MSA] is the most difficult of the tests,” said A. Duane Arbogast, chief of academics for the school system. “It’s very dependent on the sophisticated use of language.”
Arbogast said that steady climb in test scores reflects that teachers are pushing students on the use of vocabulary and language, so that they can correctly use science-related words like “hypothesis,” an educated guess, and “metamorphosis,” the significant changes during physical development in an animal.
The increase follows the trend in the county since 2008, when the test was first introduced. The test includes questions about biology, physics, geology and chemistry.
While school officials have recently been emphasizing STEM — science, technology engineering and math — as a more prominent part the curriculum in the county, Arbogast said that effort is in its infancy and is not reflected in this year’s test scores, though it should make a difference in coming years.
Science test scores lag up to 30 percentage points behind reading and math scores, with more than 84 percent of county fifth-graders proficient in reading and 75.5 percent proficient in math.
“The reality is, we have a huge way to go in science,” Arbogast said.