American Students Flunk Their Own History, Geography

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Blake Neff Reporter
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American students continue to flunk when it comes to knowing their own history and geography, according to results on national achievement tests released Wednesday.

Among the nation’s eighth graders, only 18 percent performed at proficient or better on the U.S. history portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. For geography, the numbers were better but still unimpressive, with 27 percent of students scoring proficient or better. Civics results were in the middle, with 23 percent showing proficiency. Overall, these scores are very close to those released in 2010, indicating that U.S. students are stagnating in their knowledge.

NAEP is a national test administered to select samples of U.S. schoolchildren in order to track national progress in a variety of subjects. Results on the test are released in installments known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The results released by the government included several sample questions that illustrated the knowledge, or lack thereof, shown by the 29,000 students who took the test. For example, only 39 percent of test-takers could correctly identify Social Security as the program most impacted by the rapid growth of America’s senior population. More positively, 61 percent could identify the Louisiana Purchase when it was shown as a shaded region on a map.

Roger Beckett, executive director of the Ashbrook Center, an organization promoting education on U.S. history and government, said the results indicated a crisis in American education.

“The scores are abysmal. They show us that U.S. history and civics remain two of the subjects that American students perform the worst in,” said Beckett. He said the poor performance had ominous long-term implications for America’s well-being.

“The American founders, after they created this system of governments, many of them set about working in education,” Beckett said. “They recognized this close connection between self-government and an educated citizenry… If we don’t understand who we are, how our government works and why it works that way, I think it is going to have consequences for this American experiment in self-government.”

Beckett also said that history and civics knowledge is decaying because the subjects are receiving less emphasis in schools. He noted that NAEP now only tests eighth graders on history and civics, while in the past it also tested fourth and twelfth graders.

“Many teachers teach to the tests, and if the Department of Education is not going to test the fourth graders and the twelfth graders any more in history and civics, it’s likely that we’re going to be seeing less emphasis,” he said. Beckett said that he wasn’t necessarily endorsing relying on standardized tests, but said that as long as substantial testing is the norm, history and civics must be treated as core subjects.

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Blake Neff