High school students
Recent studies say American students are not very knowledgeable about American history. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Recent studies indicate that the typical American student doesn’t know much about American history. The Department of Education recently found in its assessment of public school students that more fourth grade students were proficient in U.S. history than high school seniors.

High school seniors not smarter than a fourth grader

The National Assessment of Education Progress, a project of the Department of Education, found in its semi-regular survey “The Nation’s Report Card” that most American public school students are next to clueless when it comes to American history, according to the New York Times. The survey found that 20 percent of fourth grade students were proficient in U.S. history, but only 17 percent of eighth grade students were rated proficient in U.S. history. Students in 12th grade, high school seniors, were the least competent. Only 12 percent of 12th grade students were proficient in American history. Students’ competence in a subject is measured as “below basic,” “basic,” “proficient” or “advanced,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Proficiency, as far as the survey is concerned, essentially means a student has mastered the basics of a subject and understands how it applies to the everyday world.

Signs of improvement

Though these statistics seem dismal, there are some signs of improvement. From the 2006 Nation’s Report Card to the 2010 Nation’s Report Card, fourth graders improved from 18 percent proficiency to 20 percent proficiency in American history. Eighth graders held steady, but high school seniors dropped from 13 to 12 percent proficiency. However, most students did demonstrate basic competency, if not proficiency. About 73 percent of fourth grade students, according to the Washington Post, demonstrated at least basic competency, as did 69 percent of eighth grade students. High school students, however, are far behind their younger counterparts; only 45 percent of high school seniors displayed at least a basic competency in history. However, student groups have improved since the 1994 assessment. Fourth graders improved from 64 percent showing basic competency in 1994 to 73 percent in 2010. Eighth grade students improved from 61 percent showing basic competency and the high school seniors managed a 2 percent increase in the number of students showing basic competency or better.

Students improving

Though these test results may not appear encouraging, the long term trends in education are not too dismal. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average scores for reading and arithmetic have improved overall between 1971 and 2008, though high school students showed the least improvement. Students 9 years old scored an average of 208 points out of 500 in reading in 1971 and 220 in 2008. The 13-year-old students improved from 255 in 1971 to 260 in 2008, but 17-year-old students only managed to improve from 285 in 1971 to 286 in 2008. In math, 9-year-old students improved from 219 to 243 from 1973 to 2008. The 13-year-olds in the same period went from an average 266 to 281, and 17-year-old students improved from 304 to 306.

Sources

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/education/15history.html

Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303714704576385370840592218.html

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/federal-report-shows-history-scores-rising-slowly/2011/06/14/AG1y3fUH_story.html

National Center for Education Statistics: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/main2008/2009479.asp

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