NAEP Data From History Test Released

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Teachers who use instructional materials like maps, movies, and videos to teach U.S. history occasionally, but not frequently, may enhance their students' knowledge of the subject, scores from a 1994 national test in that subject suggest.

At the same time, students whose home life offered the most frequent discussions of schoolwork, the greatest access to books and newspapers, and the least television viewing scored the best among their peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in American history.

The Department of Education last week released additional data from the 1994 history exam. Although the new report goes beyond preliminary information released last November, its authors caution against drawing cause-and-effect conclusions based on the data.

The congressionally mandated national assessment, known as "the nation's report card," has been given since 1969 in a variety of academic subjects to a nationally representative sample of students.

Overall, scores of the students in grades 4, 8, and 12 who took the U.S. history test were disappointing. Only 17 percent of 4th graders, 14 percent of 8th graders, and 11 percent of 12th graders reached the "proficient level," which signifies solid academic performance and competence over challenging subject matter. (See Education Week, Nov. 8, 1995.)

Role of Maps and Computers

As part of the assessment, history students and teachers were asked to fill out questionnaires about their instructional materials and activities.

While 4th and 8th graders who had had more exposure to U.S. history than their peers also had higher average scores on the 500-point scale, 12th graders who said they were taking a U.S. history course at the time of the exam scored five points lower than those who were not.

Most students take at least one U.S. history course by the time they finish the 11th grade. Only about one-third of the 12th-grade students in the sample were taking U.S. history.

But the more semesters of history, geography, and social studies that seniors reported taking, the higher their scores. Those with one or two semesters since the beginning of the 9th grade scored 37 points lower, on average, than those students with seven or more semesters.

Among 4th and 8th graders some--but not frequent--use of maps and globes or of movies, videos, and filmstrips was associated with higher scores. The highest scores among those students was for those who used maps and globes once or twice a week--as opposed to almost every day--and those who watched films and videos no more frequently than once or twice a month.

Few students and teachers in the study reported using the kinds of primary historical sources that historians have called for in the classroom. Just 9 percent of 4th graders and 22 percent of 8th graders were taught by teachers who reported using primary documents at least once a week.

The use of computers in social studies or history classrooms, which was much more common for 4th graders than 8th graders, was associated with lower scores on the history test for both grades.

Fourth graders who reported using computers almost every day scored an average of eight points below those who did so once or twice a month and 14 points below those who used them a few times a year. Similarly, 8th graders who said they never used computers or did so a few times a year scored 18 points higher than those who used them almost every day.

The report notes, however, that "a variety of factors, including student ability level and the nature of the material being taught, influence a teacher's decision to use a particular method."

Vol. 15, Issue 36

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