U.S. Students Improving in Geography, Study Finds

National Geographic News
June 21, 2002
A new report released today by the U.S. Education Department shows that
average geography scores of the nation's fourth and eighth graders,
while low, have improved from 1994. No overall changes were seen for
12th graders.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the United States' only ongoing representative sample survey of student achievement in core subject areas. Authorized by Congress and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U.S. Department of Education, NAEP regularly reports to the public on the educational progress of students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

In 2001, NAEP conducted a geography assessment of fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students in the U.S.

According to the survey, The Nation's Report Card: U.S. Geography 2001, the improvements for fourth and eighth graders were seen among students scoring in the tenth and 25th percentiles of performance.

Black fourth-graders' scores improved, resulting in narrowing the gap between black and white students' scores. Sizeable gaps remain, however, between the average performance of black and Hispanic students and that of white students.

The findings from this new geography assessment were presented at a news conference at the Department of Education with Deputy Commissioner Gary Phillips, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Daniel Domenech of the National Assessment Governing Board, and Gilbert Grosvenor of the National Geographic Society.

In addition to average scale scores, student performance on NAEP is also reported as percents of students performing at or above three achievement levels, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The scale scores show what students know and can do, and the achievement levels are intended to describe standards for what students should know and be able to do.

The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), the independent body that sets policy for NAEP, developed the three NAEP achievement levels. NAGB's position is that every student should score Proficient or above.

"On this NAEP geography assessment conducted in 2001, two out of ten students in grade four, three out of ten students at grade eight, and one out of four students in grade twelve reached Proficient," Phillips said. "In all three grades the typical, or average student, scored at the Basic level."

At both the fourth and eighth grades, the percentage of students at or above Basic increased from 1994 to 2001, while the percentage of students below Basic decreased.

The report also indicates differences in level of parental education and student performance at grades eight and twelve. At both grades, the higher the parental education level reported, the higher the average score attained. At grade twelve, students who reported that their parents had not graduated from high school had higher average scores in 2001 than in 1994.

Data from the NAEP geography assessment indicate more attention to certain aspects of geography in the classroom in 2001 as compared with 1994.

• A higher percentage of 8th-grade students reported studying maps and globes at least once or twice a week.

• There were also increases in the percentages of 8th and 12th graders who studied countries and cultures, natural resources, and environmental issues once or twice a week.

The results of the 2001 NAEP geography assessment are based on a nationally representative sample of approximately 6,900 fourth graders (5,900 public and 1,000 private school students); approximately 9,000 eighth graders (7,700 public and 1,300 private school students); and approximately 9,000 twelfth graders (8,000 public and 1,000 private school students). These students were in approximately 1,110 schools, including about 850 public schools and 260 nonpublic schools.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

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