In the sixth Assessment of Achievement Programme survey of science, which took place in May-June 2003 (four years after the previous one) and reported last month, written tests were used to assess P3, P5, P7 and S2 pupils' knowledge and understanding, and their investigation skills were assessed through practical activities.
Participating schools were invited to complete a questionnaire about the resources available to them for P7 and S2 science and their science provision, while pupils were invited to complete questionnaires about their science learning experience.
Slightly fewer than 2,500 pupils in 155 primary schools took part in the primary assessments and just over 2,000 S2 pupils in 130 secondary schools participated. Typically, 16 randomly selected pupils in each school took part.
Some disappointing results were obtained, in particular S2, where the majority of tested pupils failed to achieve even half marks at their target 5-14 levels in knowledge and understanding. As for investigation skills, up to a quarter of pupils "could not be judged at a level at all because they did not show evidence of the behaviour concerned". As regards informed attitudes, more than a quarter of the groups studied were "reluctant to engage in discussion" and "difficult to animate and hence to assess".
On the positive side, three-quarters of P3 pupils were secure at the target level in knowledge and understanding, while more than half attained an even higher level in investigation skills.
The survey reported "a high degree of awareness of current issues among pupils" across the stages, while reasons for their opinions were "generally valid and relevant, showing evidence of informed attitudes".