See how U.S. fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students performed in science

Between January and March 2019, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science assessment was administered to a nationally representative sample of fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students. Results are compared to those from 2015 and previous science assessments back to 2009, the first year under the current science framework.

This Report Card Highlights provides key findings from the 2019 science assessment. See the NAEP Science Report Card to explore the full set of student performance results and information about students’ learning experiences inside and outside of school. You may also download a summary of the science results.

Find out more about the assessment.

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Overall Science Performance at Grades 4, 8, and 12

Science scores decrease at grade 4; no significant changes at grades 8 and 12 compared to 2015

Fourth- and eighth-graders score higher compared to 2009; no significant change for twelfth-graders
Figure | Average scores in NAEP science, by grade: Various years, 2009–2019
Display As
Graphical line chart representing the data shown in corresponding Table. See Table toggle.
Graphical line chart representing the data shown in corresponding Table. See Table toggle.
Graphical line chart representing the data shown in corresponding Table. See Table toggle.
* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019.

In 2019, the average science score at fourth grade was lower by 2 points compared to 2015 while the score was higher by 1 point compared to 2009. At grade 8, the average score was not significantly different compared to 2015 but was four points higher compared to 2009. The average score at grade 12 in 2019 was not significantly different in comparison to 2015 and 2009.

Lower scores for fourth-grade students in two of three science content areas; no significant changes in content area scores for eighth- and twelfth-graders compared to 2015
Figure | Average score changes in NAEP science content areas, by grade: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Science content area2019 score compared to
Grade 4Grade 8Grade 12
201520092015200920152009
Physical science34
Life science45
Earth and space sciences22
Score increase in 2019Score decrease in 2019No significant change in 2019

The NAEP science assessment measures students’ knowledge and abilities in three content areas—Physical Science, Life Science, and Earth and Space Sciences. Learn more about the science content areas.

In 2019, average scores at grade 4 declined in Life Science and Earth and Space Sciences compared to 2015, while scores were higher in Physical Science and Earth and Space Sciences than in 2009. At grade 8, there were no significant changes in average scores across the three content areas in 2019 compared to 2015, while Physical Science and Life Science scores were higher than in 2009. There were no significant changes in average scores across the content areas at grade 12 compared to 2015 and 2009.

Scroll to read details for each grade or select items in the table of contents.

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Grade 4: Percentile Scores

Scores decrease for lower- and middle-performing fourth-graders compared to 2015

Figure | Changes in fourth-grade NAEP science scores at selected percentiles: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Display As
Change from
Chart of change from 2015 (prior year) to 2019, Grade 4
Legend
Score increase in 2019
Score decrease in 2019
No significant change in 2019

NAEP reports scores at five selected percentiles to show the progress made by lower- (10th and 25th percentiles), middle- (50th percentile), and higher- (75th and 90th percentiles) performing students.  

The decrease in overall average science score between 2019 and 2015 consisted of score declines for lower- and middle-performing fourth-grade students. In 2019, there were no significant changes in scores for higher-performing students compared to 2015.

The increase in overall average science score between 2019 and 2009 consisted of score increases for higher-performing students. Scores were not significantly different for lower- and middle-performing students in 2019 compared to 2009.

Scores decline for lower-performing fourth-graders in all three science content areas

Figure | Changes in fourth-grade NAEP science scores at selected percentiles, by content area: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Physical Science
Percentiles2019
score
2019
Compared to
30020152009
90th1975
75th1783
50th1553
25th1303
10th1044
0
Life Science
Percentiles2019
score
2019
Compared to
30020152009
90th195
75th1752
50th1524
25th12662
10th10184
0
Earth and Space Sciences
Percentiles2019
score
2019
Compared to
30020152009
90th1963
75th1772
50th15422
25th12932
10th1054
0
Score increase in 2019Score decrease in 2019No significant change in 2019

A comparison of content area performance by percentiles in 2019 and 2015 showed the following:

  • Scores decreased in Physical Science for lower-performing students.
  • Scores decreased in Life Science for lower- and middle-performing students and for higher-performing students at the 75th percentile.
  • Scores decreased in Earth and Space Sciences for lower- and middle-performing students.

Please note that NAEP science content area scales are developed independently. As a result, comparisons cannot be made from one content area to another.

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Grade 4: Student Group Scores

Score gains for many student groups from 2009 to 2015 while average scores decline for many student groups from 2015 to 2019

Scores decline for many lower- and middle-performing fourth-grade student groups compared to 2015
Figure | Changes in fourth-grade NAEP science average scores, by selected student groups: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Student Group2015 score compared to 20092019 score compared to 2015
Gender
Male43
Female42
Race/ethnicity
White33
Black53
Hispanic8
Asian/Pacific Islander7
Score increaseScore decreaseNo significant change
NOTE: Results are not shown for the racial/ethnic categories “American Indian/Alaska Native” and “Two or More Races”.

While many reported student groups made score gains in science from 2009 to 2015, average scores either declined or did not significantly change for most student groups from 2015 to 2019. The graphic above shows examples of this pattern in student performance by gender and race/ethnicity.

In addition, science scores in 2019 declined for lower- and middle-performing students across many selected student groups at fourth grade in comparison to 2015.

Download a data table summarizing the full set of results for fourth-grade student group scores by percentile (.xlsx).

In 2019, there were no significant changes in score gaps compared to 2015 for most reported student groups in fourth-grade science. While there was no significant change in the 2019 average science score for White students compared to 2009, scores at fourth grade increased for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students and students of Two or More Races. The score gains from 2009 to 2019 for these student groups contributed to a narrowing of the score gaps between these groups and their White peers.

In 2019, many student groups also had lower content area scores compared to 2015. For example, scores declined for the following:

  • male and female students in Life Science and Earth and Space Sciences;
  • White students in Life Science and Earth and Space Sciences; Black and Hispanic students in Life Science; and
  • students eligible for the NSLP in all three content areas and students not eligible for the NSLP in Life Science and Earth and Space Sciences.
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Grade 4: NAEP Achievement-Level Results

Twenty-seven percent of fourth-grade students performed below NAEP Basic in science, larger compared to 2015

Thirty-six percent of fourth-graders at or above NAEP Proficient, lower compared to 2015
Figure | NAEP achievement-level results in NAEP science for fourth-grade students: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Display As
Baseline
Percent1009080706050403020100102030405060708090100YearBelowNAEP BasicNAEPBasicNAEPProficientNAEPAdvanced
Loading...
NOTE: NAEP achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted and used with caution.

The percentage of students performing at or above the NAEP Proficient level was 2 percentage points lower compared to 2015, whereas the percentage of students who performed below the NAEP Basic level increased by 3 percentage points.

Compared to 2009, the percentage of students who performed at or above NAEP Proficient was higher in 2019, while the percentage of students who performed below NAEP Basic was not significantly different.

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Grade 4: Student Experiences with Scientific Inquiry

Thirty percent of fourth-graders participate in scientific inquiry-related classroom activities from never to once or twice a year

Larger percentage of lower-performing than higher-performing fourth-graders have teachers reporting that their students rarely participate in scientific inquiry-related activities
Figure | Percentage of fourth-grade students in NAEP science, by the average frequency with which their teachers reported students' participation in inquiry-related activities in science class: 2019
Chart of percentage of students who gave each response. See provided NAEP Data Explorer link for data.

As part of the 2019 NAEP science assessment, teachers of fourth-graders were asked how often (never, about once or twice a year, about once or twice a month, about once or twice a week, or every day or almost every day) their students did various activities in class, including four types of activities that involved scientific inquiry: working with other students on a science activity or project; talking about the measurements and results from their hands-on activities; discussing the kinds of problems that engineers can solve; and figuring out different ways to solve a science problem. 

In 2019, thirty percent of all fourth-grade students in the nation had teachers who reported students’ frequency of participation in the four scientific inquiry-related activities as ranging from never to once or twice a year. Larger percentages of lower-performing students (below the 25th percentile) than higher-performing students (at or above the 75th percentile) had teachers who reported that their students never or about once or twice a year participated in the following inquiry-related activities: 

  • worked with other students on a science activity or project; 
  • talked about the measurements and results from their hands-on activities; and 
  • figured out different ways to solve a science problem.

See a data table summarizing the full set of results for fourth-grade student experiences with scientific inquiry by percentile in the Report Card.

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Grade 8: Percentile and Content Area Scores

Decrease in science score for lowest-performing eighth-grade students compared to 2015

Figure | Changes in eighth-grade NAEP science scores at selected percentiles: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Display As
Change from
Chart of change from 2015 (prior year) to 2019, Grade 8
Legend
Score increase in 2019
Score decrease in 2019
No significant change in 2019

While the average science score was not significantly different in 2019 compared to 2015, the score decreased for the lowest-performing eighth-grade students at the 10th percentile. Scores were not significantly different across the performance distribution for most student groups compared to 2015. 

Compared to 2009, the higher average score for eighth-graders consisted of score increases for students at all five selected percentiles and for most reported student groups.

Download a data table summarizing the full set of results for eighth-grade student group scores by percentile (.xlsx).

Scores decline for lowest-performing eighth-grade students in all three content areas compared to 2015; scores increase for higher-performing students in two content areas

Figure | Changes in eighth-grade NAEP science scores at selected percentiles, by content area: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Physical Science
Percentiles2019
score
2019
Compared to
30020152009
90th19624
75th17824
50th1564
25th1313
10th1063
0
Life Science
Percentiles2019
score
2019
Compared to
30020152009
90th19936
75th18127
50th1596
25th1335
10th1064
0
Earth and Space Sciences
Percentiles2019
score
2019
Compared to
30020152009
90th194
75th1762
50th1552
25th1292
10th1034
0
Score increase in 2019Score decrease in 2019No significant change in 2019

There were no significant changes in average scores across the three content areas in 2019 compared to 2015. However, there were changes in percentile scores as follows:

  • Scores decreased for students at the 10th percentile in Physical Science, Life Science, and Earth and Space Sciences and for students at the 25th percentile in Earth and Space Sciences.
  • Scores increased for students at the 75th and 90th percentiles in Physical Science and Life Science.

Please note that NAEP science content area scales are developed independently. As a result, comparisons cannot be made from one content area to another.

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Grade 8: Student Group Score Gaps

Gender score gap at grade 8 smaller compared to 2015 and 2009

White–Black and White–Hispanic score gaps smaller compared to 2009
Figure | Changes in eighth-grade NAEP science score gaps, by gender and race/ethnicity: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Male female score gap in 2019 was 1 point, in 2015 was 3 points, and in 2009 was 4 points. Gaps in 2015 and 2009 were significantly different from 2019. Within year gap in 2019 was not significant. Within year gap in 2015 and 2009 was significant. White and Black gap in 2019 was 32 points, in 2015 was 34 points, and in 2009 was 36 points. Within year gap for all three years was significant. 2009 was significantly different from 2019. White and Hispanic gap in 2019 was 24 points, in 2015 was 26 points, and in 2009 was 30 points. Gap in 2009 was significantly different from 2019. Within year gap for all three years was significantly different.
Legend
Significant difference within year
No significant difference within year
*Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019.

While there were no significant changes in score gaps for most student groups in 2019 compared to 2015, the gender gap narrowed.  The 1-point score difference between male and female students in 2019 was smaller than the 3-point score gap in 2015 and the 4-point score gap in 2009. Male students scored higher than their female peers in 2009 and in 2015 while there was no significant difference between the two groups in 2019.

Score gaps were smaller for several other reported student groups in comparison to 2009. For example, the score gaps between White students and their Black and Hispanic peers were smaller in 2019 than in 2009. Greater score gains in science from 2009 to 2019 for Black and Hispanic students contributed to a narrowing of the score gaps between these groups and their White peers.

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Grade 8: NAEP Achievement-Level Results

Thirty-three percent of eighth-grade students perform below NAEP Basic in science, not significantly different compared to 2015

Thirty-five percent of eighth-graders at or above NAEP Proficient, not significantly different compared to 2015
Figure | NAEP achievement-level results in NAEP science for eighth-grade students: Various years, 2009–2019
Display As
Baseline
Percent1009080706050403020100102030405060708090100YearBelowNAEP BasicNAEPBasicNAEPProficientNAEPAdvanced
Loading...
NOTE: NAEP achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted and used with caution.

In 2019, there were no significant changes in the percentages of students performing at or above NAEP Proficient or below NAEP Basic on the science assessment compared to 2015.  

The percentages of students who performed at or above NAEP Proficient and at NAEP Advanced were higher in 2019 than in 2009; the percentage of students who performed below NAEP Basic was lower.  

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Grade 8: Student Experiences with Scientific Inquiry

Forty-two percent of eighth-graders participate in scientific inquiry-related classroom activities from never to once in a while

Larger percentage of lower-performing than higher-performing eighth-graders rarely participate in scientific inquiry-related activities
Figure | Percentage of eighth-grade students in NAEP science, by the average frequency with which they reported participating in inquiry-related activities in their science class: 2019
Chart of percentage of students who gave each response. See provided NAEP Data Explorer link for data.

As part of the 2019 NAEP science assessment, eighth-graders were asked how often (never or hardly ever, once in a while, sometimes, often, or always or almost always) they did eight activities in their science class that involved scientific inquiry.

In 2019, forty-two percent of all eighth-grade students in the nation reported that they participated in inquiry-related activities in their science class at a frequency ranging from never to once in a while. Larger percentages of lower-performing students (below the 25th percentile) than higher-performing students (at or above the 75th percentile) reported that they never or hardly ever or once in a while participated in the following inquiry-related activities:

  • came up with research questions to explore how something works;
  • made drawings that explain why or how something happens;
  • used tables or graphs to identify relationships between variables;
  • used math equations to explain or support scientific conclusions;
  • used evidence from experiments to explain why something happens; and
  • combined information about science from multiple sources for an assignment.

See a data table summarizing the full set of results for eighth-grade student experiences with scientific inquiry by percentile in the Report Card.

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Grade 12: Percentile and Content Area Scores

No significant progress in science performance at grade 12 for lower-, middle-, and higher-performing students compared to 2015

Figure | Changes in twelfth-grade NAEP science scores at selected percentiles: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Display As
Change from
Chart of change from 2015 (prior year) to 2019, Grade 12
Legend
Score increase in 2019
Score decrease in 2019
No significant change in 2019

There were no significant changes in science scores for twelfth-grade students at all five selected percentiles in 2019 compared to 2015. There also were no significant changes in average scores since 2015 for any reported student groups including: race/ethnicity, gender, parental education level, type of school, attendance at a charter school, school location, region of the country, status as students with disabilities, and status as English learners. In addition, there were no significant changes in science score gaps at grade 12 for most reported student groups in 2019 compared to 2015 and 2009.

Overall student performance in science has also not significantly changed in comparison with 2009. However, the score declined by 4 points for the lowest-performing twelfth-graders at the 10th percentile in 2019. An apparent score increase of 3 points for the highest-performing students at the 90th percentile in 2019 was not a statistically significant change compared to 2009.

Download a data table summarizing the full set of results for twelfth-grade student group scores by percentile (.xlsx).

No significant changes in average scores across the content areas at grade 12 compared to 2015; scores decline for lowest-performing students in Physical Science and Life Science

Figure | Changes in twelfth-grade NAEP science scores at selected percentiles, by content area: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Physical Science
Percentiles2019
score
2019
Compared to
30020152009
90th196
75th174
50th149
25th1243
10th10135
0
Life Science
Percentiles2019
score
2019
Compared to
30020152009
90th1984
75th1773
50th152
25th125
10th10045
0
Earth and Space Sciences
Percentiles2019
score
2019
Compared to
30020152009
90th195
75th175
50th152
25th127
10th104
0
Score increase in 2019Score decrease in 2019No significant change in 2019

Average scores did not significantly change across the science content areas in comparison to 2015. Looking at content area scores by performance level in 2019, the lowest-performing students at the 10th percentile scored lower in Physical Science and Life Science compared to 2015. 

While average scores were not significantly different compared to 2009 across the science content areas, there were significant changes in percentile scores as follows:

  • Students at the 10th percentile scored lower in Physical Science and Life Science; students at the 25th percentile also scored lower in Physical Science; and
  • Students at the 75th and 90th percentiles scored higher in Life Science.

Please note that NAEP science content area scales are developed independently. As a result, comparisons cannot be made from one content area to another.

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Grade 12: NAEP Achievement-Level Results

Forty-one percent of twelfth-grade students perform below NAEP Basic in science, not significantly different compared to 2015

Twenty-two percent of twelfth-graders at or above NAEP Proficient, not significantly different compared to 2015
Figure | NAEP achievement-level results in NAEP science for twelfth-grade students: 2009, 2015, and 2019
Display As
Baseline
Percent1009080706050403020100102030405060708090100YearBelowNAEP BasicNAEPBasicNAEPProficientNAEPAdvanced
Loading...
NOTE: NAEP achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted and used with caution.

In 2019, there were no significant changes in the percentages of students who performed at or above NAEP Proficient , below NAEP Basic , or at NAEP Advanced compared to 2015 and 2009.

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Grade 12: Science Coursetaking

Forty-one percent of twelfth-graders report having taken courses in biology, chemistry, and physics; seventy-one percent report taking no AP science courses

Figure | Percentage of twelfth-grade students in NAEP science, by science courses taken and number of AP science courses taken: 2019
See the accessible version of this chart in the NAEP Data Explorer:
Chart of percentage of students who gave each response. See provided NAEP Data Explorer links for data.

As part of the 2019 NAEP science assessment, twelfth-grade students were asked about the science courses they had taken since eighth grade and whether they were currently enrolled in or had taken Advanced Placement (AP) science courses. Note that coursetaking data are collected from students’ self-reports of their coursetaking history and are not taken from students’ transcripts.

The typical high school science course sequence begins with biology, followed by chemistry and physics. In 2019, forty-one percent of all twelfth-grade students in the nation reported having taken courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. These students had a higher science score on average (160) than the 37 percent of students who reported having taken biology and chemistry (150) and the 22 percent of students who reported having taken biology only or other science courses (132).

Additionally, 71 percent of grade 12 students in 2019 reported having taken no AP science courses. These students had a lower science score on average (143) than the 17 percent of students who reported having taken one AP course (165), the 7 percent of students who reported having taken two AP courses (179), and the 5 percent of students who reported having taken three or more AP courses (176).

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Grade 12: Student Interest in a Science Career

Larger percentage of female than male twelfth-grade students report interest in pursuing a career in science

Figure | Percentage of twelfth-grade students in NAEP science, by gender and how likely they are to pursue a science career: 2019
Chart of percentage of students who gave each response. See provided NAEP Data Explorer link for data.

As part of the 2019 NAEP science assessment, twelfth-graders were asked how likely (not at all likely, not likely, somewhat likely, quite likely, or extremely likely) they were to pursue a career in science.

In 2019, forty-six percent of all twelfth-grade students in the nation reported that they were somewhat or more likely to pursue a science career in science. A larger percentage of female students (51 percent) than male students (42 percent) reported that they were somewhat or more likely to pursue a science career.

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Sample Questions: Explore Sample Scenario-based Tasks and Questions

The NAEP digitally based science assessment consisted of standalone, discrete questions, and scenario-based tasks comprising a connected sequence of questions. Scenario-based tasks were designed to engage students in scientific inquiry through hands-on activities and computer simulations set in real-world contexts. The tasks provided students opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in each of three science content areas and four science practices. The science assessment included two types of scenario-based tasks:

  • Interactive computer tasks (ICTs). ICTs use real-world simulations to engage students in scientific investigations that require the use of science inquiry skills and application of scientific knowledge to solve problems.
  • Hybrid hands-on tasks (HHOTs). Students perform hands-on scientific investigations using materials in kits provided by NCES. The “hybrid” in HHOTs denotes that these tasks combine hands-on investigations with digital activities. Students use NCES-supplied tablets to view kit instructions, record results and data, and answer assessment questions.

Learn more about the digitally based science assessment.

Explore sample scenario-based tasks from the 2019 science assessment:

Grade 4 task: Life Science

In the How Seeds Travel hybrid hands-on task, students who planted a garden investigate how seeds spread to places where people do not plant them. In the hands-on part of the investigation, students examine different types of seeds provided in the task materials kit.

Explore

Seeds blowing in the wind

Grade 8 task: Earth and Space Sciences

In the Clear Water interactive computer task, students investigate what could be causing river water to become cloudy. Students use simulations to test water clarity and investigate strategies for erosion control.

Explore

Illustration of a river meeting a lake

Grade 12 task: Physical Science

In the Bicycle Materials interactive computer task, students analyze the properties of different metals and use simulations to determine the best material to use for producing a lightweight and strong bicycle frame.

Explore

Bicycle stored in the corner of a room
Learn more about the NAEP science assessment:

Additional Data and Resources

Explore more 2019 science results and resources