ST. ALBANS — Results on Vermont’s statewide science exams continue to show that less than half of the state’s students are achieving at or above grade level in science.

Results from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) science tests were released last week by the Agency of Education. The tests are given annually to students in grades 4, 8, and 11, and are designed to measure students’ knowledge of science and ability to reason scientifically.

“We want to find out if our students can think like scientists,” said Pat Fitzsimmons, an Education Programs Manager at the Agency who helped develop the NECAP science test. “We want to assess their abilities as critical thinkers, to see if they can stand back and see if the data make sense.”

Overall, only 47 percent of the state’s fourth graders were proficient in science, a six-point drop from last year.

There were modest, two point improvements in the number of eighth and eleventh grade students proficient in science. However, only 32 percent of eighth graders and 31 percent of 11th graders were proficient.

The achievement gap for poor students also persisted. Only 32 percent of the state’s poor fourth graders were proficient in science. By 11th grade, only 16 percent of the state’s poor students are proficient.

One Franklin County school continues to buck that trend. At Montgomery Elementary 71 percent of the school’s eighth graders were proficient or better, despite relatively high poverty rates at the school. It should be noted the school had only 17 eighth grade students.

Franklin Elementary, another small school, had similarly good results with 64 percent of its fourth graders proficient or better.

The other Franklin County Schools which outperformed the state averages were Georgia Elementary and Middle School, where 73 percent of fourth graders and 37 percent of eighth graders were proficient or better, and Fletcher Elementary where 56 percent of fourth graders were proficient.

In Enosburg, 55 percent of fourth graders were proficient, but those numbers dropped to 25 percent in eighth grade and 16 percent in high school.

Similarly, the St. Albans Town Education Center (SATEC) had 53 percent of fourth graders at or above grade level in science, only to have that percentage drop by half, to 27 percent, for eighth grade students.

Throughout the county, test scores were grim for high school students, with between 70 and 90 percent of students scoring below grade level.

Rhode Island and New Hampshire, Vermont’s partners in the NECAP consortium, also saw a large score drop this year for students in grade four. State Director of Educational Assessment, Michael Hock, pointed to the test’s inquiry section as the major source of the lower scores. “The inquiry section requires students to apply the scientific processes to a real life, hands-on investigation,” Hock said. “Students also need to use the language of science to report their findings and conclusions. The Agency will continue to encourage an inquiry approach to teaching science in the classroom, with special emphasis on how science instruction needs to interact with English Language Arts.”

Vermont recently adopted the Common Core standards for reading, writing and mathematics instruction. The reading and writing standards focus heavily on non-fiction and require teaching students to read scientific reporting and present information using scientific language.