“Report Card” Shows Students Lagging in Geography Knowledge

Fewer than one-third of the nation’s students achieve at or above the proficient level in geography, according to the latest results released this week from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The geography report card, released on the heels of report cards in civics and U.S. history, adds to a picture of stagnating or declining overall achievement among U.S. students in the social sciences.

Although fourth graders made gains in achievement since 2001, The Nation’s Report Card: Geography 2010 shows that performance by eighth graders remained flat, and achievement by twelfth graders declined from 1994. The Nation’s Report Card: Geography 2010, Grades 4, 8, and 12 is available by clicking here.

“In particular, the pattern of disappointing results for our twelfth graders’ performance across all three social science subjects should be of great concern to everyone,” said David P. Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP.

Although there were few increases overall, improvements were made in the percentage of students in the lowest-performing group. Scores for students at the 10th percentile were higher than in 1994 for all grades. Among fourth graders, who posted the largest gains, the score at the 10th percentile increased by 23 points since 1994. In another positive trend, some gaps in achievement narrowed between racial/ethnic groups.

NAEP is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education. NAEP Geography assessment was given to a nationally representative sample of 7,000 fourth graders, 9,500 eighth graders and 10,000 twelfth graders. The NAEP results are reported as average scores on a 0 to 500 scale and as percentages of students scoring at or above three achievement levels: Basic, denoting partial mastery of the knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work; Proficient, representing solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter; and Advanced, representing superior performance. Further highlights of the geography report card:

  • Male students scored higher than female students at all three grades. Males scored four points higher at grades 4 and 8, and five points higher at grade 12.
  • Fourth graders’ performance continues to improve. Fourth graders scored five points higher than in 2001 and seven points higher than in 1994.
  • No significant change in eighth graders’ performance, but gains among lowest performers. Average scores of eighth graders were not significantly different from 2001, but the score for the lowest-performing students at the 10th percentile increased.
  • Black students’ scores increased at grades 4 and 8, and achievement gaps narrowed. At grades 4 and 8, average scores for black students were higher than in 1994 and 2001. Black students made larger gains since 1994 than white students at grades 4 and 8, narrowing the gap by 20 points at grade 4 and nine points at grade 8.
  • Hispanic students’ scores increased at grades 4 and 8, and the grade 4 gap narrowed. Scores for Hispanic students were higher than in previous years for grades 4 and 8, but only in the fourth grade did the gap between Hispanic and white students’ scores narrow.

One thought on ““Report Card” Shows Students Lagging in Geography Knowledge

  1. If we don’t teach it, they won’t learn it. The same goes for history, government, biographical studies, native peoples, and current events (or better, economics, current information). By “teaching” is not meant social studies “unit”s. Teaching means conceptual lessons on social studies content. It means mental maps, chronological history cross-hatched with biography, geography, and government, how to make free enterprise work for more than 15% to 20% of the population. Ideally, those occur in social studies units, but the evidence shows that, in practice, they do not. It is not hard to find people who do not know what is in the Constitution (even as they claim to know); how the Constitution is different from the Declaration of Independence; where Hawaii is and Montana and Arkansas; why North Dakota is a major wheat growing state (and “plains” is not the answer), what an embargo is; who James K. Polk was and why he is one of the three or four most important presidents in history, and so forth.

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