Most 12th-Graders Lacking Basic Facts of U.S. History

<i> from Associated Press</i>

More than half of America’s high school seniors don’t know basic facts about U.S. history, and they cannot use what they do know to reason or back up their opinions, a national report card indicates.

“Our kids did poorly across the board,” said Naomi Cohen, a former Connecticut state lawmaker on the citizens board established by Congress to oversee the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The scores, released Wednesday, are certain to intensify the political debate over the quality of schools. Two months ago, Education Secretary Richard W. Riley pointed to upswings in other test results and declared that U.S. education was “on the right track.”

Riley, in a statement Wednesday, said the history scores prove the need for voluntary national academic standards.


However, he called both the test and its scoring difficult: “It’s a tough test--much more rigorous than what most students are used to seeing in school,” he said.

NAEP officials acknowledged the test was tough, but they insisted that it represented what students need to keep strong “our system of democratic self-government, which depends on knowledgeable citizens,” said William T. Randall, Colorado’s education commissioner.

The 1994 test showed sharp differences by race. About half of white and Asian seniors, but only 20% of black and Latino seniors, were at or above the basic level.