- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

By the time the 2001 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) U.S. history exams were administered to fourth, eighth- and 12th-grade students, it had been 20 years since the Department of Education established the National Commission on Excellence in Education, whose subsequent report warned that the erosion of America's educational foundations "threatens our very future as a nation and a people." In yet another indictment against the educational establishment what former Secretary of Education William Bennett calls "the Blob" the recently released results of the 2001 NAEP history exams confirm a disastrous situation. The longer students remain in U.S. schools, the NAEP results demonstrate, the more ignorant of U.S. history they seem to become.

Fully 57 percent of 12th graders performed below the basic level, which NAEP defines as "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade." Another 32 percent of seniors achieved the basic level, a notch below the acceptable level of proficiency. That means that only 11 percent of 12th graders performed at or above the proficient level, which NAEP defines as "solid academic performance" and considers to be grade-level achievement. For seniors, the overall performance on the 2001 history exam reflected the identically disastrous results the last time (1994) the NAEP history test was offered.

Compared to the atrocious performance of 12th graders, fourth- and eighth-grade students performed better, but only marginally so. Truth be told, their cumulative results were nearly as unacceptable. For example, 79 percent of fourth graders failed in 2001 to attain proficiency in U.S. history. What is considered to be progress is the fact that 83 percent failed to meet the proficiency goal in 1994.

Diane Ravitch, a historian and professor of education at New York University who is a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, declared the performance of seniors to be "truly abysmal." Miss Ravitch noted that in no other subject assessed by NAEP do more than 50 percent of seniors score below the basic level, including science (47 percent perform below basic), mathematics (35 percent) and reading (23 percent). "All these figures show that there are massive numbers of poorly educated young adults on the verge of graduating from our high schools a situation profoundly damaging to their lives and future prospects," Miss Ravitch bemoaned.

Meanwhile, "the Blob," fattened during the past two decades by the revenues from major tax increases assessed at the state and local levels, continues to fail at its mission, a threat to our future as a nation.


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