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Is This Good News?

Results from the 2011 Science National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grade 8 are in, and they show that US eighth graders scored a 152 out of 300 on the national science test — two points higher than what eighth graders evaluated in 2009 had earned, reports ScienceInsider's Jeffrey Mervis. Jack Buckley, head of the National Center for Education Statistics, calls this a "uniformly positive" result that shows that US students are indeed learning. The racial gap also narrowed, Mervis says. The numbers are small — from a 36-point gap to a 35-point gap between white students and black students, and from a 30-point gap to a 27-point gap between white students Hispanic students — but Buckley says that they are significant. However, the gap between boys and girls grew from four points to five points.

However, many educators disagree with Buckley's positive view. "It's pretty hard to get excited about these results," Gerald Wheeler, interim executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, tells Mervis. "It's like when a student who is flunking every subject finally comes home with a 'D.'" About 70 percent of US middle school students only have a basic understanding of what they need to know to do well in science classes, and only 2 percent students have an advanced understanding, Mervis adds. Some experts say that while the numbers may be improving, they are nowhere near where they need to be.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.