"If you don't know your past, you will not have a future," says Steven Paine, former state schools superintendent for West Virginia.
Just 13 percent of high school seniors who took the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, showed a solid grasp of American history, a new report shows.
The results, released June 14, showed the two other grade levels tested didn’t perform much better, with just 22 percent of fourth-grade students and 18 percent of eighth-graders demonstrating proficiency.
The test quizzed students on topics including colonization, the American Revolution and the Civil War, and the contemporary United States. For example, one question asked fourth-graders to name an important result of the U.S. building canals in the 1800s. Only 44 percent knew that it was increased trade among states.
“The history scores released today show that student performance is still too low,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “These results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education.”
Education experts say a heavy focus on reading and math under the federal No Child Left Behind law in the last decade has led to lagging performance in other subjects such as history and science.
“We need to make sure other subjects like history, science, and the arts are not forgotten in our pursuit of the basic skills,” said Diane Ravitch, a research professor at New York University and former U.S. assistant education secretary.
A similar report issued in May revealed that fewer than one-quarter of high school seniors are proficient in civics.
Of the seven subjects on the 2010 national test, students performed the worst in U.S. history. Officials with the National Assessment Governing board, which oversees the tests, say the results aren’t comparable to the other tests, because different students take each exam in different years.