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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

The Declaration of What?

Declarationofindependence The latest national test scores on history and civics are out, and there is reason to both breathe easy and be very, very scared. On the upside: The percentage of students who have a basic grasp of U.S. history is up in all grade levels tested, while the percentage who have a basic understanding of civics is at least up in elementary grades.

The downside? Things like this: Only 14 percent of 12th graders can explain why the U.S. was involved in the Korean War. Only 28 percent of eighth graders can explain the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence. And only 1 percent of eighth graders can explain how the fall of the Berlin Wall affected foreign policy.

The results are from the latest round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which is often called the Nation's Report Card and is widely considered to be a credible yardstick of student achievement. Results released this morning are from the 2006 tests in history and civics, which were taken by a random sampling of fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders totaling more than 25,000 students nationwide. The test scores are not broken down by state, but instead offer a national gauge of progress over time.

Supporters of history and civics education said the results show those subjects are not getting enough attention in the nation's schools. Kim Kozbial-Hess, an Ohio fourth-grade teacher who sits on the board that oversees NAEP, pointedly noted that No Child Left Behind puts the spotlight on math and reading. "Are we doing well enough in U.S. history that it should continue to be left out of the No Child Left Behind legislation?" she said in prepared remarks.

But other observers say maybe there is a link between No Child's focus on reading and the uptick in history and civics scores. No Child, along with school accountability systems like the one built in Florida by former Gov. Jeb Bush, have (rightly or wrongly) forced schools to focus more attention on struggling students, who showed some of the biggest gains in these latest NAEP results. "If students are learning to read more effectively than in previous years … then there may be some spinoff effect taking place," said Charles Smith, the National Assessment Governing Board's executive director.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

UPDATE: To read US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' reaction to the results, click here. Read Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews' take on the results, too.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:17am]


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