Nov. 23, 2001 – Last August, the National Center for Education Statistics issued what is known as The Nation's Report Card for Mathematics 2000, the results of nationwide math testing of students in grades 4 and 8 in the year 2000. At the 4th grade level, the only level for which Virgin Islands public school results were reported, out of 45 states and other jurisdictions, the territory ranked next to lowest, its scores higher only than those of American Samoa.
On Tuesday, The Nation's Report Card for Science 2000 was released. It covers testing of 4th, 8th and 12th grade students across the country. At the 4th grade level, again the only level for which V.I. public school results were reported, out of 44 states and other jurisdictions, the territory again was ranked next to lowest, its scores again higher only than those of American Samoa.
The overall 4th grade science scores represent the average of all pupils in the jurisdiction who were tested. On a scale of 0 to 300, the national average was 147. The average for students in the Virgin Islands was 116.
Each jurisdiction's results were broken down, percentage-wise, into four categories — "below basic," "basic," "proficient" and "advanced."
Basic is defined as "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade." Proficient is defined as "competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter." Advanced "signifies superior performance."
Nationally, 64 percent of 4th grade students taking science tests ranked "at or above basic." In the Virgin Islands, 26 percent did. Within this category, nationally, 31 percent ranked "proficient or advanced." In the Virgin Islands, 4 percent did.
Nationally, 36 percent ranked "below basic." In the Virgin Islands, 74 percent did.
Where the test data come from
The science assessment measured knowledge in earth, physical and life sciences; and the three elements of "knowing and doing science" — conceptual understanding, scientific investigation and practical reasoning. "Each question is categorized as measuring one of the elements of knowing and doing within one of the fields of science," the report states.
The 2000 science assessment also was administered at the 8th grade level in the Virgin Islands, as had been done in 1996, the first and only previous year for which science testing was done. However, "The Virgin Islands met the criteria for reporting public school results for grade 4 in 2000 but did not meet the criteria for grade 8," the report states. Footnotes in the report state that the Virgin Islands "failed to meet participation guidelines to report results at grade 8." A project officer for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which conducts the surveys, told the Source in August that the minimum school participation rate guidelines for reporting of results is that at least 70 percent of the participating schools furnish data.
In the individual states, testing is done on a scientific sampling basis, targeting 100 schools and 2,500 students. For a small population such as the Virgin Islands, all of the public schools are sampled, randomly drawing a total of 2,500 pupils in each grade to be tested.
Adding to the statistical complexity of the reporting process, the national results are derived from one sampling and those for the individual states are from another. "National results are not based on aggregated state assessment data and do not include any students from the U.S. territories," the report states. Thus, Virgin Islands students' scores are not a part of the national figures; nor, for that matter, are those of the other students whose scores are reported at the state and territorial level.
Also, national results are a mix of public and private schools; those for the individual states and territories are of public schools only.
The National Center for Education Statistics, an agency of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement, administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress. As its name indicates, NAEP is intended as a vehicle for jurisdictions to track their own achievement, as well as for the national education system as a whole to do so. No individual student scores are reported; assessment is by state or territory.
At the national level, the Science 2000 scores of students in grade 4 showed no significant difference from those of 1996. At the state level, NAEP did not assess 4th graders in 1996, so the 2000 jurisdictional statistics cannot be compared to prior performance.
The "state profile" for the Virgin Islands cites 20,866 public school students in grades K-12, of which 83.6 percent are black, 15.2 percent are Hispanic, and 0.9 percent are white; and of which 5.1 percent are in limited-English-proficiency programs.
In the Virgin Islands, 4th grade black students had an average scale score higher than that of Hispanic students. Both groups performed below their respective national levels.
Nationally, the average score for blacks was 124, compared to 119 in the territory. The average for Hispanics was 127 nationally and 106 in the Virgin Islands. Nationally, 67 percent of blacks ranked "below basic," while in the Virgin Islands, 71 percent did. The spread was greater among Hispanic students: Nationally, 60 percent ranked "below basic," while in the territory 83 percent did so.
On the national level, according to the report, white students had higher scores, on average, than black or Hispanic students; these sub-groups' performance showed no change from 1996 to 2000. There was significant change in gender differences: For 2000, "the score gaps favoring males widened by three points at grade 4."
One Virgin Islander's expert opinion
A reader on the mainland who heard a report on the science scores Tuesday on the National Public Radio program "All Things Considered" wrote the Source shortly afterward. The concerns of Dr. Edward E. Thomas Jr. are both personal and professional. He is a Virgin Islander (and, yes, the son of the chief executive officer of The West Indian Co.). He also is an assistant professor of physics at Auburn University in Alabama. He wrote:
"I have recently come across two items that should be of great concern to all Virgin Islands residents. The first is the loss of accreditation for the high schools and the second is the Science 2000 Report Cards released Nov. 20 by the U.S. Department of Education. These are not isolated events."
Thomas described himself as "a product of both the private (Moravian, Lutheran, All Saints) and public (Charlotte Amalie Class of 1985) school systems of the Virgin Islands. I obtained my Ph.D. in physics in large part due to the training and education I received in my youth in the Virgin Islands." He wrote that he is "greatly saddened and concerned that I don't perceive a large public outcry about the state of education and the support for schools and educators. As a research scientist and university professor, I am particularly worried about the state of science education — especially at the elementary school level."
Thomas said he has stayed in touch with several former teachers at CAHS as well as colleagues at UVI. And at Auburn, he coordinates an annual summer outreach program for high school teachers and students as part of his overall research program. "So, I've become very aware of the challenges facing science education at the secondary school level," he said.
"In a technological society — especially in an era in which technology is rapidly evolving — it is absolutely essential that students be provided with a working knowledge of
the physical, chemical, and biological world around them," he wrote. "In spite of the challenges that face the nation and the Virgin Islands at this time — both political and economic — it is essential to realize that, as my parents have always told me, education is key to success. The Virgin Islands must not allow its educational system to become a victim of malaise or neglect."
Territories fare worst overall
The three territories included in the Science 2000 testing lie a quantum leap below the 39 states, the collective military personnel schools at home, and those abroad.
The scores for American Samoa are 98 percent "below basic" and 2 percent "basic."
Those for the Virgin Islands are 74 percent "below basic," 22 percent "basic" and 4 percent "proficient."
Those for Guam are 76 percent "below basic," 20 percent "basic" and 4 percent "proficient."
Next up the ladder are Mississippi and California, both with 53 percent "below" basic, 33 percent "basic," 13 percent "proficient" and 1 percent "advanced."
Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas did not take part in the Science 2000 testing, nor did the District of Columbia nor the states of Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin.
For 4th graders, the states with the highest Science 2000 averages were Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota and Vermont. At the upper end, Massachusetts set the pace, with 37 percent "proficient" and 6 percent "advanced" (and 10 percent "below basic").
In 4th grade average state scores, Massachusetts led with 162, followed by Maine with 161, and Iowa, Montana and North Dakota with 160. Among the states, the lowest averages were 136 for Hawaii, 133 for Mississippi and 131 for California. The territories follow — the Virgin Islands with 116, Guam with 110 and American Samoa with 51.
The report provides comparative figures on per-pupil education expenditures (1997-98) and pupil-teacher ratios (fall 1998). At $5,932, the Virgin Islands appears to be slightly below average in expenditures. New Jersey leads with $9,643; at the bottom are American Samoa with $2,175 and Utah with $3,969. At 13.4 pupils per teacher, the territory's reported ratio is one of the lowest (and therefore best), with only Vermont and Maine doing better.
For further information on the science test results, visit the Nation's Report Card/Science 2000 web site. For the Virgin Islands report, under "More information" on the right-hand side of the main page, click on the option "View the report cards for participating states." Adobe Acrobat software is required to read and print out the report; it can be downloaded without charge.
For details on how the Virgin Islands public schools fared in the mathematics testing, and for further discussion of The Nation's Report Card, see the earlier Source report "V.I. ranks next to last in grade 4 math testing".

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