Sunday, July 24, 2011

Which is bigger: California or Los Angeles? Most fourth graders aren't sure.

Few students have a 'proficient' understanding of geography
as reading and math push social sciences out of the classroom

MONITOR QUIZ: Think you know the US? Take our geography quiz

This from the Christian Science Monitor:
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, released its third and final social studies report this year, and the results closely mirror the civics and history results that came out in prior months.

In all three subjects, fourth-graders have made some gains, while scores for older kids have stagnated or even declined slightly. And in all three, only a small minority of students achieved a level deemed “proficient” – and just a miniscule handful qualified as “advanced.”

“To the extent … that classroom time becomes an even more precious and scarce commodity, geography, with subjects such as history and the arts, is losing out in the zero-sum game that results from high-stakes testing,” said Roger Downs, a geography professor at Pennsylvania State University, in a statement.

The geography test tries to assess students’ knowledge not just of places and names, but also the relationships between people and the land.

Just over half of fourth-graders knew that farming – as opposed to fishing, mining, or recreation – is the most common land use in the Midwest, for instance. And just 4 percent of eighth graders were able to explain a graph showing urban and rural population changes over time (26 percent gave a partial response).

Even the good news from the report – the rising scores at the fourth-grade level – is mixed. Yes, fourth-graders scored 5 points higher (on a 500-point scale) in 2010 than in 2001, and 7 points higher than in 1994. But the change was solely due to students at the lowest achievement levels moving up. More students reached the “basic” level than in the previous two years, but there was no change in the number of "proficient" students, and the percentage of "advanced" students – just 2 percent of fourth-graders – was actually lower than in 1994.

“These improvements may all reflect another trend in NAEP, the gain in basic reading skills,” noted fourth-grade teacher and National Assessment Governing Board member Shannon Garrison, in a statement on the results. “The improvement in basic reading skills would certainly impact the lower-performing students, since if they can read the questions easily, they have a much better chance of answering them correctly. However, to reach ‘proficient’ requires more detailed knowledge of geography and critical thinking skills.”

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