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Education Reporter

NAEP 2001 History Test Scores Unsettling
WASHINGTON, DC - The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results for the 2001 United States history exam are in, and less than half of high school seniors (43%) demonstrated even a basic grasp of history. Only one in 10 seniors (10%) scored at the proficient level, where all students should be according to the U.S. Education Department, and a meager 1% scored at the advanced level. Just 15% of 8th graders and 16% of 4th graders scored at the proficient level, with only 2% of both grades scoring at the advanced level. Across the board, 12th-grade scores did not improve compared to 1994, the last year the test was given, but 4th and 8th-grade scores rose slightly.

Among 8th graders, 64% of students scored at the basic level or above in 2001, up from 61% in 1994. For 4th graders, the percentage increased from 64% scoring at basic level or above in 1994 to 67% in 2001. The test results showed the performance gap narrowing between white and black students at the 4th-grade level and between white and Hispanic students at grade 12. Private school students scored higher than public school students.

In its May 13 internet "Communique," the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA) pointed out that, while non-public school students performed better than their public school counterparts, as they typically do, the scores for nonpublic schools were subdivided into "Catholic" and "other." The scores of Catholic school students went up in all three grades tested compared to 1994, while the scores for other non-public school students rose just one point in grade eight and declined in grades four and 12 compared to 1994. "Since Catholic schools are more likely to have low-income students than other private schools," observes EIA, "this is a remarkable outcome."

EIA noted that the 2001 NAEP history scores "are the entirely predictable result of a decline in reading comprehension. It would be baffling if history scores rose while reading scores remained flat or fell."

Kentucky research analyst Richard Innes, who has studied the NAEP results for years, is concerned that the 2001 NAEP History Report, as discouraging as it is, doesn't tell the whole story. "This is a national sample only," Innes points out, "and doesn't give us an indication of what's going on in the individual states."

Innes reports that the "accommodations" given to students labeled "learning disabled" were extended for the 2001 NAEP history test to include any child who can't read. (Many LD students are excluded from the tests altogether, but those who participate may be given extra time, have test questions read to them or be provided with "scribes" who write down their answers for them.)

"It appears that students in Kentucky who can't read are now having the test questions read to them," Innes asserts, "and my fear is that other states are becoming 'Kentuckyized,' that is, they are allowing similar accommodations. This is a very serious situation. We are not getting a true picture of how our children are doing on these tests."

The 2001 NAEP history test was given to 29,000 4th, 8th and 12th graders.

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