| Private school students best
public in several subjects
"Don't know much about history. … Don't know much geography." Unfortunately, those two lines from Sam Cooke's catchy hit of 1960 pretty much capture the results from the latest assessment of the nation's students.
On April 29, the National Center for Education Statistics released The Nation's Report Card: 2014 U.S. History, Geography and Civics, and the findings were bleak, but student performance varied significantly by the type of school a student attended, public or private, with the private school having the advantage.
Less than 30 percent of all U.S. eighth- graders managed to score proficient or higher on any of the assessments. Twenty-seven percent reached that level in geography; 23 percent did so in civics and only 18 percent in history.
"The lack of knowledge on the part of America's students is unacceptable, and the lack of growth must be addressed. As a country, we must do better," said Terry Mazany, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress. "Geography, U.S. history and civics are core academic subjects that must be a priority. They represent knowledge and skills that are fundamental to a healthy democracy."
Performance varied significantly by the type of school a student attended, public or private, with the private school advantage for the percentage of students scoring proficient or higher amounting to 19 points in geography, 16 in civics and 14 in history. NAEP reports average scale scores as well as the percentage of students who reach or exceed certain achievement levels: basic, proficient and advanced. According to NAGB, "The basic level denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for grade-appropriate work; proficient denotes solid academic performance; and advanced represents superior work."
Thirty percent of the nation's eighth-grade public school students performed below the basic level in history; 27 percent did so in geography and 27 percent in civics. Comparable figures for private school students were 13, 10 and 11 percent. At the high end of the spectrum, only 1 percent of public school students scored at the advanced level in history, as did 3 percent in geography and 2 percent in civics. Private school percentages were, respectively, 2, 5 and 3.
More than 29,000 eighth-graders participated in the assessments. Besides responding to subject-matter questions, students also answered questions about classroom practices and their views on coursework. For example, 51 percent of public school students and 55 percent of private school students said they often or always agree that social studies/ civics/government schoolwork is interesting. The survey also showed that students are doing more work online and on computers in social studies than just four years ago.
"The way students are absorbing information is changing," said Chasidy White, an eighth-grade geography and history teacher and a NAGB member. "Instruction needs to meet students where they are to improve learning. In my classroom, that means embracing technology and incorporating discussions about current events. I encourage all teachers to use these reports to spark new ideas for their classroom practices."
(Compiled with permission from the May 2015 CAPE Outlook newsletter of the Council for American Private Education; to learn more,www.capenet.org.)
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