Still don't know much about history

I just minutes ago signed off a one-hour “webinar” announcing and discussing the results of the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress history test for a representative sample of American 4th, 8th, and 12th graders. I’m going to talk more about the results, and what I heard on the webinar, but first here’s the news.

From today’s lead Education Week story:

“The nation’s 8th graders posted gains in American history achievement compared with four years ago, new data show, but only a small minority, 17 percent, were rated ‘proficient’ or higher in the subject.
The increase appears to be largely explained by advances seen among black and Hispanic students on the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress in U.S. history.

Meanwhile, at the 4th and 12th grades, history essentially repeated itself, with no statistically significant changes since 2006. Just 12 percent of seniors and 20 percent of 4th graders scored at least proficient.
In fact, more than half of all 12th graders scored below the “basic” level on NAEP, known as ‘the nation’s report card.’

Diane Ravitch, a research professor at New York University who was invited by the National Assessment Governing Board to comment on the findings, noted in a prepared statement that history achievement lagged that of the most recent results for math, reading, science, civics, writing, and geography when measured by the percentages of students scoring proficient or “advanced.”

‘The results of this assessment tell us that we as a nation must pay more attention to the teaching of U.S. history,’ said Ms. Ravitch, who co-authors an opinion blog hosted by the Education Week website. ‘We should make sure that there is time for it in the school day, that those who teach it have a strong history education.’

Ms. Ravitch was one of the webinar speakers, and I want to respond to some of her comments in later posts. But let me just throw out what seems to me the most obvious and troubling counter. She worries that 4th graders spend, at most, two hours a week on history, and I’m sure she’s right. But 4th grade scores went up, at least a little. (Ms. Ravitch attributes this to improved reading skills.) 12th graders have virtually all taken a full year of U.S. history, and they’re the students who are tanking. Their scores are even more depressing when you consider that these results leave out the disturbingly large number of kids who’ve already dropped out of school by 12th grade.

Here’s a link to the NAEP report.

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