Monday, August 13, 2007


Good news and bad news

The good news comes in a New York Times article that tells us about the unexpectedly good performance of high school seniors on a national economics test:

The Department of Education translates student scores on the test, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, into three achievement levels: advanced, proficient and basic. On the economics test, 42 percent of 12th graders performed at or above the proficient level, and 79 percent performed at or above the basic level. An economics course is required for graduation in only about one-third of the states.

Sounds OK. Except that the bad news is in the same article, buried in one paragraph and played down in the article in favour of the other:

In contrast, only 13 percent of 12th grade students performed at or above proficient, and only 47 percent performed at or above the basic level on the national assessment test in history that was administered last year. On a similar test in science in 2005, only 54 percent of 12th grade students performed at or above the basic level, and just 18 percent at or above proficient.

Yow! Look at what that says: only about half of high school seniors can pass a “basic” test on history and science.

Now, I don't know what the test is like, or what “basic” entails. And perhaps it's just that the economics test is more straightforward and connects better to daily life than the ones in history and science. Maybe, indeed, this is all only an indictment of No Child Left Behind, rather than a reflection on what's coming out of our schools.

On the other hand, couple this with survey reports that show appalling numbers of American adults (and, apparently, French adults too) don't know that it's the moon, not the sun, that revolves around the Earth. In large numbers, we don't understand natural selection, don't understand basic cosmology, and think people kept dinosaurs as pets.

And, well, the results of reading and writing tests are as depressing.

Is it our school system? Or our society? I think the latter. In any case, I think it's more significant than the results of the economics test.


Dr. Momentum said...

Good questions. I just don't know for certain, but I think I agree that it is a wider problem.

I can't imagine that it's the school's fault when the problem (the moon question) is so widespread, even crossing country boundaries and oceans.

Maggie said...

When the girls were little, they sometimes watched a Disney show called "Bear in the Big Blue House."

It was a cute show. One of Bear's friends was "Luna," the moon, who would come up when the sun went down. Every time I saw it I would lecture the girls.

K recently read me a list she had created of "children's shows and why they're not educational," or "why they're bad for children," or something like that, and the stupid Bear thing made the list.

Ignorance begets ignorance, that's for sure. If the moon comes up when the sun goes down, they must be equidistant bodies orbiting the earth at the same speed, right? Or some stupid artist liked the symmetry of it better than the astronomical reality. Grrr.

scouter573 said...

The test results suggest that students did well in Economics. I look at our leadership - these are the people who look at ever-growing deficits and decide to grow government spending and cut taxes. How well might they do on the Econ test?