Don’t know much about history

Once again, college students have flunked a test of history knowledge.

Students don’t know much about history, and colleges aren’t adding enough to their civic literacy, says a report out today.

The study from the non-profit Intercollegiate Studies Institute shows that less than half of college seniors knew that Yorktown was the battle that ended the American Revolution or that NATO was formed to resist Soviet expansion. Overall, freshmen averaged 50.4% on a wide-ranging civic literacy test; seniors averaged 54.2%, both failing scores if translated to grades.

Follow the link and take the quiz for yourself.


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  1. Alex Bensky says:

    95% here.

  2. Also scored a 95.

    But unfortunately the following occured, and we didn’t meet the AYP:

    -10 parents legally signed out their kids from taking the test.
    -the 25 migrant kids from Mexico that have trouble reading Spanish, much less English, couldn’t read the test.
    -the massive IEP population of kids asked that the test be read to them, as we are legally required to do. They did well on the test, but it is invalid now because they had “modifications”, that are required by law.

    Our reward for meeting the proficency numbers is that the school loses money, the parents are more irritated with testing, electives have now been cut, and politicians will pass more idiot legislation that doesn’t educate kids.

    Guess it isn’t all about what you know.

  3. I got a 91.67% and I thought it was a pretty good test. It covered a nice, wide variety of subjects, history, politics and economics. It’s totally embarrassing to think that no college averaged as high as 70%.

    On the other hand, I would have had done quite poorly on this straight out of college. I think we’ve been doing a lousy job of teaching “civics” for at least fifty years.

    I don’t know what it’s going to take to wake people up to the fact that our inability to educate our children is at least as important to this country in the long term as the war on Islamic totalitarianism.

  4. Coach Brown–

    Depending on which test was read to the kids on IEPs, that was a legal accommodation (now if it was the reading test, that was a modification and what you say is true, but you can legally read the math, history and science tests to kids without it negatively impacting AYP statistics).

    I suspect the issues are more the 10 kids who signed out of the tests and the Latino kids. Either that or someone messed up on the paperwork

  5. 97% here. I missed two questions, one on DeTocqueville’s Democracy in America and one on the economic impact of the Federal Reserve’s bond market activity. I can live with that.

    I probably would not have scored that high straight out of college, but I would definitely have done better than 70%.

  6. Joycem said, Depending on which test was read to the kids on IEPs, that was a legal accommodation (now if it was the reading test, that was a modification and what you say is true, but you can legally read the math, history and science tests to kids without it negatively impacting AYP statistics)

  7. Joycem said, Depending on which test was read to the kids on IEPs, that was a legal accommodation (now if it was the reading test, that was a modification and what you say is true, but you can legally read the math, history and science tests to kids without it negatively impacting AYP statistics)

    Just because it’s legal doen’t make it ethical. The research shows that the largest numbers of students with IEPs are classified as LD. And, the evidence also shows that well over 50% of students classified as LD do not meet a state’s criteria for LD. Most students classified as LD exhibit no cognitive and achievement differences when compared to struggling students, e.g., poor readers, not classified as LD. The fact that only students classified as LD are eligible for accommodations is discrimination against students not classified as LD because both exhibit the same cognitive and achievement profiles. For years, this has been a lawsuit waiting to happen. Let’s hope it happens soon. The numbers of students receiving unneeded accommodations in college because of incorrect (and unethical) diagnoses of LD is rampant and unchecked.

  8. I scored 55/60, which is still an A-. I got the bond question wrong, as well as a couple about political philosophers (only ones I’ve read are de Tocqueville and Goldwater!).

    Not bad for a math teacher?

  9. I’m not trying to be cynical, but I don’t think that
    colleges think it is their job to teach this sort of

    This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t, just that I don’t
    think that *they* think that they should.

    Can anyone from academia comment?

    -Mark Roulo

  10. Bill Leonard says:

    I scored 85%, although on two wrong answers I inadvertantly clicked the wrong balloon. Then again, it’s been 42 years since I graduated from college.

    In fairness, some of the questions probably would have been difficult for a recent college graduate. However, I can’t think of any excuse for any colege student to miss matters of straightforward historical fact, such as the period in which Lincoln was elected; the battle that ended the American Revolution; and so forth.


  11. 95%: missed a couple of economics questions, and one rather shameful miss on Jamestown (forgot that one…)

  12. Tyrian Purple says:

    I just graduated college last August, but many of those questions I learned the answer to in high school, some from my own “fun” reading, and very little of it came from college. American history in college actually irritated me because it didn’t go past what I learned in the lower grades. I was expecting something more in-depth (like actually reading the Federalist papers, not just mentioning them. I mean, I bought the book because I assumed we’d read it. Didn’t happen).

    I got a 90%, which irritated me because several of the ones I got wrong were the answers I thought were right the first time around, but changed my mind. When will I learn!

    Many of these historical questions I saw over and over again, starting from elementary school (e.g., Jamestown) and I just never forgot them (reinforcement). That some of the top schools are having trouble getting the students to learn this stuff is frightening.

    I am also a little confused about why several of you believe someone just out of college wouldn’t be able to pass the test, since I would have figured just the opposite, as in, someone 20 years removed from school would not remember this or that because they never used the info or never cared, etc.

  13. I got ~97% – missed two: the political philosophers one because I was an idiot and misread the question, and the Federal Reserve bonds question, because I had no clue. I don’t think I learned any of this in college, or since, really. Everything I knew I learned in high school, or on my own during that time – guess AP U.S. History, Gov’t, and Economics did right by me. It’s not really my college’s fault, though – I AP’ed out of all the relevant courses.

  14. Robert Wright says:

    Smarty pants!

    Shoot, I got only 86%.

  15. If the average monthly score on the test is 75%, which is what the site reports, and you acknowledge that people who are going to take history tests for recreation are probably a higher than average self-selected group, I’m not sure that the college results are quite the shameful data that the website would have us believe.

    And while I don’t have any particular problem with any of the questions, what evidence to we have that it’s a particularly valid measure of important or essential civics and history knowledge? Basically, we’re supposed to accept it because the test makers say it is?

    I think we might have a better electorate if every voter could pass a similar test, but until we require it, what’s the point of hammering colleges for not ensuring that students have mastered that particular set of knowledge?

    (And I say all believing that the point of education is actual knowledge rather than skills or “learning to learn” or any such nonsense. But if there’s no evidence that anyone expected colleges to offer a particular history and civics curriculum to every graduate, why should we be upset or outraged that they don’t then pass a test over a curriculum no one was required to teach or learn?)

  16. Cardinal Fang says:

    I got 93%. I missed the Jamestown one, and I inexcusably missed the Fed buying bonds (I put that it decreased the money supply, when I know full well the Fed increases the money supply when it buys bonds because the Fed creates the money it uses to buy the bonds). I missed two more as well.

    There were quite a few economics questions on the quiz.

  17. 82 percent.

    Of course, I’m not American – I’m Canadian. So some of the more obscure American history questions were just guesses for me. And some questions (eg. the one on the Monro Doctrine) are answered differently from a Canadian perspective.

    I wonder how Americans would do on a similar quiz about Canadian history. Or European history. or Chinese history.

  18. I loved the economics questions.

    I hesitate to admit that I only scored about 73%. Ouch.

    Almost all the problems I missed were early-mid 20th century history. My private high school (in the 80s) stopped history ed at the turn of the 20th century, for some reason. I learned no history in college at all, but (evidently) quite a bit of econ.

    I just checked out 2 books on 20th century American history, so all hope is not lost.


  19. Missed one.

    Test was very poorly done. I can’t believe that a group of scholars actually edited that test and put it out as their best effort. Poorly worded questions and an extremely unrepresentative sample of the subjects involved.