What’s important about that bearded guy with the stovepipe hat? What advantage did American colonists have over British troops during the Revolutionary War? What country allied with North Korea during the Korean War? American students don’t know much about U.S. history, concludes the Nation’s Report Card 2010. History is the weakest of all subjects tested.
Eighth graders made some progress from 2006 to 2010, while scores were flat at the fourth an 12th-grade level. However, only 17 percent of students score at or above the proficient level.
Since 1994, scores have risen at all three levels. Black and Hispanic fourth and eighth graders have made significant gains since 1994. That’s the good news.
Not so good: Only a third of fourth graders can identify the purpose of the Declaration of Independence.
Two percent of 12th graders can name the social problem — school segregation — that Brown vs. the Board of Education was supposed to correct, even after reading: “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
While some questions are multiple choice, others require students to write a short response. Frequently, they are asked to interpret maps, pictures, posters, graphs, original documents and quotations, such as explaining the historical context of a slave letter, using a map to explain the purpose of the Lewis and Clark expedition or analyzing a graph of the declining number of farms.
Questions about minorities and women are common: Identify a role of women during the American Revolution. Explain how World War II affected African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights. Study an 1849 picture of a Sioux encampment and identify three ways the Sioux used natural resources.
I had to think about this eighth-grade question:
For centuries, a young man who wanted to learn a craft was apprenticed to a master craftsman who taught him the necessary skills. Why did the apprenticeship system begin to decline in the first half of the 1800’s?
A. The apprenticeship system was considered unsuitable for the increased number of women working outside the home.
B. The growth of the factory system led to a decreased need for skilled labor.
C. Many young men chose to become farmers instead of craftsmen.
D. Craftsmen began to use unskilled immigrant labor in their shops.
(The answer is B.)