Why Students Struggle With History Classes

Who was North Korea’s ally in the Korean War against American troops? No googling please.

See, history isn’t that easy after all. If you said China, without googling, pat yourself on the back and grumble about how uninformed your fellow Americans are.

But the fact of the matter is very few high school seniors were able to correctly answer that question, and most fourth graders cannot identify why Abraham Lincoln is an important historical figure.

American students are simply less proficient in their nation’s history than any other subject, according to an article in the New York Times.

Nationally, 12 percent of high school seniors, 17 percent of eight graders and 20 percent of fourth graders scored proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, which measures students’ proficiency in various academic subjects.

These scores, surprisingly enough, actually marked a small increase for eighth graders since 2006, pleasing federal officials. However, fewer than a third of all eighth graders could correctly identify an important advantage American forces had over the British during the Revolution.

Some history teachers and educators were appalled by these results, as the list of seemingly simple questions that students failed to answer goes on.

Another: only two percent of 12th graders correctly answered what was important in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, arguably one of the most important United States Supreme Court cases in the past seven decades.

Students were given the following passage, “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Then they were asked what social problem the 1954 ruling was supposed to correct, and only two percent of them could.

“The answer was right in front of them,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian who was invited by the national assessment’s governing board to review the results told the New York Times. “This is alarming.”

In this famous case, the Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal schools for white and African American students is unconstitutional – in case you didn’t know.

The National Assessment of Education Progress tests were given in the spring of 2010 to a representative sample of 7,000 fourth graders, 11,800 eight graders and 12,400 12th graders nationwide.

The test covers eight subjects: history, math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography and economics. Many refer to the test as the Nation’s Report Card.

The federal board established three levels of achievement for each test. “Basic” represents partial mastery of the subject; “proficient” represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter, and “advanced” means superior performance.

Economics is American students’ best subject as 42 percent of students scored proficient in economics on the 2006 test.