The Nation’s Report Card: Geography 2010


“EDUCAR” (educate!) reads this graffiti, sprayed by a protester in Chile (no relation to this post) demanding better public schools (according to the photographer, Natalie Lake).
Today the National Center for Education Statistics released “The Nation’s Report Card: Geography 2010.” The report outlined the state of geography education in U.S. schools, based on a sample of students around the country in grades 4, 8, and 12. This quick post shares highlights from the report and challenges you to take a sample test!
What did the study find? Below I’ve written the 3 observations I find most significant. The entire report (including an executive summary) can be found here. Comparisons are from the first survey in 1994 and the second survey in 2001: 
  • Only 4th graders have improved their scores as a whole since 1994 and 2001, while 8th and 12th graders hold steady at the same mediocre level. 
  • Twelfth grade boys’ scores dropped since 1994, although they remain a few percentage points above girls’ scores of the same grade level. 
  • On the plus side, the scores of minority students have improved, and the gap between Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites in achieving a “basic” achievement level has narrowed slightly (as much as 33%, depending on the age group, race, and other factors). 
What kind of questions were students asked for the survey, and how did they do?
I decided to take the sample test that covered all three grades (4th, 8th, and 12th). I sped through the 30 or so sample questions which included some spatial reasoning questions, earth science questions, and at least 3 different quiz questions on OPEC or oil. I got caught up on this question: 
In the United States, most of the fertile soils of the Midwest were derived from: 
a. glaciers
b. volcanic activity
c. decaying organic matter
d. eroded sandstone
It’s embarrassing because this is such simple and important information. (I looked up the correct answer, which was “a,” glaciers. Thank goodness I’m taking geology 101 this fall in college!)
Unfortunately, many important questions had abysmal response rates. Take the following example, from the 12th grade exam: 
Give one major reason for the population densities of Australia and Libya shown above. Explain your reason.

Country                    Population per Square Mile
Australia                    6
Libya                          6
An acceptable answer would read something like this: “Australia and Libya are covered mostly by deserts that lack the resources such as water and fertile soil that support human populations.” Unfortunately, only 5% of these young adults answered the question correctly. Only 20% received partial credit, and 73% had unacceptable answers or left it blank. 
Considering the recent war in Libya and this country’s involvement in it, it’s sad to think that graduating high school students–many of which are of voting age–lack basic knowledge to understand these important countries. 
Are you as smart as a 4th grader? An 8th grader? A high school graduate? Take this sample test to find out. Also, look for our upcoming post, which will feature a video of our own interns taking the Nation’s Report Card test. 

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