Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sam Cooke Was Wrong*

Math and science have been the media darlings of late, but two reports being released today may temporarily shift the focus to history and civics.

The results of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the federal government's measure of public school achievement, indicate test scores are up for fourth-graders and 12th-graders in U.S. history and civics. Because testing varies from state to state (our WASLTAKS in Texas), the NAEP is considered "the nation's report card" because it tests a random sample of students nationwide in a variety of subjects at different grade levels.

According to the reports, the percentage of fourth-graders who met basic standard on the assessment rose last year from 64 percent in 1994 to 70 percent last year. In civics, the jump went from 69 percent in 1998 to 73 percent last year. High school students fared well in history, too: 61 percent of 12th-graders scored at or above basic, up from 55 percent in 2001. Interestingly, the National Assessment Governing Board, which conducts the regular test sampling of schools in the U.S., noted that on other tests in the same time period, "in reading, math, science and civics--results have indicated flat or declining performance."

Teachers of history and civics have long battled over what students should know, and the latest NAEP results will no doubt fuel that fire. Although the scores are up, it is interesting to see just what students were and weren't able to correctly identify or describe. Here's a snippet of how test-takers fared. In U.S. history:
  • 35 percent of fourth-graders explained how two inventions changed life in the U.S.
  • 1 percent of eighth-graders explained how the fall of the Berlin Wall affected foreign policy
  • 36 identified immigration pattern and explained its causes.
Aside from giving radio DJs (and bloggers) something to ponder, what should we make of these results? Are they cause for celebration or more careful consideration?

(*"What a Wonderful World" - Sam Cooke)

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