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.

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