Tennessee students showing big improvements in science

KNOXVILLE (WATE) –  Tennessee students are showing big improvements in science. According to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Tennessee is the fastest improving in the nation in science.

Governor Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen made a stop at Mount Olive Elementary School in Knoxville Thursday to show how far they have come.

“In Tennessee we’re becoming known for education, and between the Tennessee Promise and the gains we’ve made in K-12 people around the country are starting to look at Tennessee,” Haslam said. “It means we’re in the top 25 states of the 50. Our fourth graders had the best scores in the country and our eighth graders the second best.”

Tennessee fourth graders jumped 11 spots to 19th in the country for science. Eighth graders are up from 32nd to 21st.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen joined Haslam on the stop, speaking about what those scores mean for students.

“The new normal is moving more of our students into post-secondary so these expectations we believe will move more of our kids to success in college and more success in our careers,” McQueen said.

Teachers in Knoxville have been working hard to get students interested in at an early age by getting hands on in the science classrooms.

“It’s more fun and interesting for me, for the teacher, because you get to see the excitement of the students and they get to see the real life applications of what it is that they’re doing,” said fourth grade science teacher Cynthia Thornburg.

They say these new rankings show it is paying off and hope they can continue to help improve.

“I think that we’ve been teaching that way a long time. I’m just glad that people are realizing that the things that we are doing are paying off,” Thornburg said.

Several achievement gaps were also narrowed across the state. The male-female science performance gap was eliminated in both grades four and eight. The gap in achievement scores between white and African-American students tightened in both grades, as did the gap for white and Latino students in fourth grade.

Astronaut and Tennessean Barry “Butch” Wilmore was also in Knoxville talking to students about the improvements.

“Opportunity. Education gives opportunity. And that’s the only thing that gives you opportunity to choose what field you want to go into,” Wilmore said.

For students like Brody Bean, hearing from Wilmore on how science helped him get to where he is is motivation to keep working hard and making the improvements.

“It’s super exciting that we’re in 19th place since we’ve been studying more,” Bean said.

He credits his teachers ability to let them get hands on for that jump.

“I like science because we do awesome experiments and we learn so much,” Bean said.

With the new rankings showing our state improving faster than any others, Wilmore says he wants to help keep students on the right track.

“With the attention, and the direction, and the diligence that the people here are concerned with we’re on the right path. That’s exciting,” he said.

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