Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Do You Know As Much U.S. History as the Average 8th Grader?

Fortunately, it turns out that I do....at least in terms of the sample questions provided for the history section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment test, a national program to track U.S. students' achievement in different topics over time.

The NAEP released the history results for 2010 recently, leading its press release with the news that scores in the three grade levels tested--4th, 8th, and 12th grade--had all risen since 1994.  It did not emphasize the fact that only the 8th grade scores had increased significantly since the most recent previous test, which was in 2006.  The results also show that while 69% of 8th graders showed they had acquired a Basic level of understanding of U.S. history, only 17% achieved the Proficient level, and only 1% scored at an Advanced level.  The numbers in the 12th grade were even more dismal:  45% were Basic level, 12% were Proficient, and 1% were Advanced.

Because I like these things, I tried the five sample questions given for each of the three grade levels, and managed to get all five questions right in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels (although I think one of the 8th grade questions was poorly developed).  To get a better idea of the level of these questions for students, rather than adults, I asked my 12 year old son, who has just completed 6th grade, to take all three sets of questions.  He got all five questions right at the 4th grade level; overall, 46% of 4th graders got those five questions right.  He missed one, or scored 80%, on both the 8th grade and 12th grade tests, compared to 45% overall correct responses among 8th graders and 56% overall of the 12th graders getting them right.

Other than the one question in the 8th grade set, I thought they were generally good questions--better than the ones my son took in his Iowa Basic Skills history assessment test this year, in my opinion.  And obviously they can't be THAT tough if my 6th grader can score that high on even 12th grade questions.

So I'm glad to see that things are better than 16 years ago.  But I don't think the results are really very good.  Once again, I think it demonstrates that subjects that aren't on the high-stakes test are getting a short shrift in our schools.

Try out the test questions yourself here and see what you think.  Let us know your opinion in the comments below.


  1. Nicely done, M!

    What I found interesting about the exam (and the framework linked from the page) is the stress on overall historical ideas and concepts, over particular knowledge and memory. I had no idea about most events in questions, yet I could answer them correctly from understanding the overall logic of the situation. I like that approach.

  2. I agree. I found the Iowa test to be much more "you studied that topic or you didn't, but if you didn't, you couldn't use your other history knowledge to figure it out." So I also thought these were (mostly) well designed questions for assessing US history knowledge/thinking.