The Achievement of Student Subgroups on Science Performance Assessments in Inquiry-Based Classrooms

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Jerome M. Shaw
Sam O. Nagashima


This study examined student learning in science as measured by performance
assessments embedded within inquiry-based units of instruction. These locally developed
assessments were implemented in a consortium of districts involved in a multi-year
science education reform initiative. The sample consisted of scores from 834 fifth grade
students on three performance assessments given in a participating district’s 14
elementary schools during the 2004-2005 school year. District-provided data permitted
disaggregation of student scores by ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status as well as
identification as English Learner, Gifted and Talented, and Special Education. Using
mean scores as the basis for comparison, results showed the majority of students
achieving at the proficient level as defined by initiative-developed rubrics. Statistical
analyses indicated significant underperformance on one or more of the assessments by
Blacks, Hispanics, low socioeconomic status students, males, non-Gifted, and Special
Education students. Depending on the performance assessment and the student subgroup,
potential factors related to performance include science discipline and access to
economics-related resources (e.g., computers). This study is noteworthy for its
comprehensiveness and the nuanced understandings it brings to previously documented
achievement gaps.

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Author Biographies

Jerome M. Shaw

University of California, Santa Cruz

Sam O. Nagashima

University of California, Los Angeles