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Geography Courses Have Little Effect for Seniors, Final NAEP Report Says

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High school seniors who were not taking a geography course outscored those who were on the 1994 national assessment in that subject, federal officials have reported.

Students in grade 12 who were not studying geography scored an average of 11 points higher on the national exam's 500-point scale than students who were enrolled in a geography course. Just 15 percent of seniors tested reported that they were taking geography.

Also, the 66 percent of seniors who reported taking at least one geography course since 9th grade did not differ significantly in performance from those who reported not having taken such a course.

The U.S. Department of Education released that information last month as part of its "report card" on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in geography. The report supplements the initial test results issued last October, which showed that only about one in four students who took the exam demonstrated they were "proficient," or had a solid understanding of the subject matter. (See Education Week, Oct. 25, 1995.)

The new report offers more information about the contextual factors that may influence student performance on the congressionally mandated assessment, often referred to as "the nation's report card." The study cautions, however, against drawing cause-and-effect conclusions from the data.

Given since 1969, NAEP is the only national, ongoing assessment of what students know and can do in a variety of subjects. A sampling of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 takes the tests.

Course-Taking Effects

According to the report, the data on seniors and geography coursework may be explained by the fact that students enrolled in a geography course in the 12th grade are not following typical course-taking patterns.

That may indicate "other academic differences between the two groups," the study says. Sixty-six percent of seniors attended schools that reported having no geography requirement for graduation.

However, those 12th graders who said they had completed the most semesters of history, geography, or social studies courses--seven or more--also were the ones who scored the best on the test. They achieved an average score of 298, compared with those with one or two semesters who scored an average of 264.

Students in grade 8, meanwhile, did better on the NAEP test if they had taken geography. Those who had taken at least one course since the 6th grade outscored their peers who had not by 16 points. Similarly, 8th graders who already had taken a course in earth science scored an average of 11 points better on the geography test than the students who had not.

The assessment also found that some use of films, videos, and filmstrips in class was associated with higher average scale scores.

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