High-school students in Pennsylvania - especially in Philadelphia - appear to be light years away from the ability to ace their science classes, according to test scores released yesterday as part of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA).

Statewide, 64.3 percent of the 11th-graders tested last spring scored at either the basic or below basic levels, which is considered below grade level.

In Philadelphia, 86.9 percent of 11th-graders posted scores at those two failing levels.

Students who score at the advanced or proficient levels are considered to have passed the standardized test, which was given for the first time in science.

Scores for fourth- and eighth- graders were better. Statewide, 81.5 percent of fourth-graders were advanced or proficient while 18.6 percent were basic or below basic. In eighth grade, 52.7 percent were advanced or proficient while 47.3 percent were basic or below basic.

Reading and math PSSA scores were released months ago and are used to determine if schools and school districts have reached yearly progress targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

State Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak decried the low high-school science scores and urged the public to back legislation that would implement statewide high-school graduation requirements.

"This is further evidence that local high-school graduation requirements and local assessments, which are currently under the control of school boards, are not ensuring that our graduates are ready for college or careers," he said.

In Philadelphia, the combined science scores of fourth-, eighth- and 11th-graders indicate that 7.3 percent of students are advanced, 23.8 percent are proficient, 30.1 percent are basic and 38.8 percent are below basic.

Among district fourth-graders, 52.8 were advanced or proficient; among eighth-graders 21 percent were advanced or proficient; among 11th graders 13.2 percent were advanced or proficient.

The district scores reveal an achievement gap with just over 50 percent of white and Asian students reaching the advanced and proficient levels, while less than 30 percent of African-American and Hispanic students reaching those levels.

Among English-learning students, 22.2 percent were advanced or proficient. *