It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, so let’s start this column with a nod to my 9th-grade science teacher, Bruce Butler, who lit a spark in me by making geology and environmental science fun, interesting — and rigorous. I still think of him whenever I’m out hiking or fishing and come across some geological curiosity. He went on to a successful career as a principal and is retiring this summer, but would no doubt be happy to know that today’s science teachers seem to be having an impact on kids, too, according to science achievement-test data released yesterday. The data, from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, a test given periodically to a national sample of students, shows that overall scores are rising a little and that the racial achievement gap is narrowing. Still, there is a long way to go: just one in three 8th-graders scored at the proficient level, a tiny increase from the last time the test was administered two years ago.