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Saturday, 26th April 2008

Still at Risk

Still at Risk
Source: Education Outlook (American Enterprise Institute)

In the aftermath of the furor provoked by A Nation At Risk, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducted a groundbreaking study to determine what America's seventeen-year-olds knew about history and literature. Administered in 1986, the tests revealed the disheartening answer: not enough. As Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn Jr. gravely concluded in their 1987 book What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, "It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that something is gravely awry. . . . Our eleventh graders as a whole are ignorant of much that they should know. We cannot be certain that they were taught it; but the evidence is unmistakable that they do not know enough of it."

Unfortunately, today there is no good measure of how much our children know about American history and literature. While the NAEP evaluates twelfth-grade students' knowledge of history roughly every five years, it excludes youths who are not enrolled in school, and according to the Department of Education, only one-third of the questions test historical "knowledge and perspective," while the other two-thirds test historical "analysis and interpretation." There is no ongoing effort to assess knowledge of literature.

A new study that I authored for the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Common Core seeks to fill this void and determine just how much today's seventeen-year-olds know about history and literature. While the findings cannot be readily compared to those collected in 1986--given substantial differences in how the tests were administered and how the data were collected--they offer valuable insights into where we stand today. Because the data were collected using questions developed, refined, and administered as part of NAEP, they represent a carefully designed measuring stick.

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