- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

The need to be geographically literate is arguably greater today than it has ever been. Yet the results from the geography exam of the 2001 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) more commonly known as the nation's report card demonstrate that America's children today are as lacking in knowledge of this important subject as they have been for years.

The NAEP ranks the 25,000 randomly selected students in the three grades taking the exam on a scale that includes "below basic," "basic," "proficient" and "advanced." The basic level represents "partial mastery" of the subject. The goal is for the average score to be at the proficient level, which represents "solid academic performance" and presumes "mastery of abilities associated with the basic level." In 2001, 79 percent of fourth graders performed below the proficient level, compared to 78 percent in 1994; 70 percent of eighth-graders performed below the proficient level, compared to 72 percent in 1994; and 76 percent of 12th-graders performed below the proficient level, compared to 73 percent in 1994.

Among the major findings is the fact that there was no statistically significant improvement in the percentages of fourth-, eighth- or 12th-grade students performing at or above the proficient level. In fact, if the students who dropped out of school between the eighth and 12th grade (and were therefore unavailable to be ranked) were factored into the analyses, the findings would be even more abysmal.

Not surprisingly, students from non-public schools at all three grade levels performed better than their public-school counterparts, repeating a feat achieved in 1994. Catholic-school students performed especially well relative to their peers.

An examination of scores throughout the various percentiles within all three grade levels revealed that the only statistically significant improvements were achieved at the 10th and 25th percentile levels for the fourth and eighth grades. That means that there was no improvement at any percentile level for 12th graders and no improvement among the fourth- and eighth-graders who were among the 75 percent of students scoring above the 25th percentile.

Moreover, only in the fourth grade was there a statistically significant reduction in the chasm that separates the scores of white and black students. Even in that case, however, the average white score (222 out of 500) still exceeded the average black score (181). Having failed to produce any measureable improvement in students' knowledge of geography since 1994, "The Blob," as former Education Secretary William Bennett refers to the failure-plagued education establishment, is already preparing its excuses for the expected dismal performance of students the next time the geography exam is administered. Because a new federal law has placed increased emphasis on reading and mathematics, "The Blob" is warning that geography, history and other social sciences will inevitably receive short shrift. Pre-emptive excuse-making has now become its specialty.


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