The National Assessment of Education Progress announced that only about a quarter of American schoolchildren scored "proficient" or above on a 2010 geography test.
You can take the sample 4th grade, 8th grade, and 12th grade tests here, to see if you would pass. Some of the questions:
Which of the following is most likely to be located in a major city rather than in a small town?
- An international airport
- A movie theater
- A public library
- A playground
Which of the following is most likely to lead to a sense of cultural unity among people?
- A diverse landscape
- A common language
- Urban migration
- Economic development
Worldwide, the greatest number of people who emigrate from one country to another today do so because they
- believe that moving will help them economically
- believe that moving will give them greater religious freedom
- like the climate better in their new country
- have been expelled from their native countries
Fourth graders made modest gains on the test compared to the last time it was given in 2001, but 12th graders slid backward, with only 20 percent scoring proficient this time around.
Daniel Edelson, vice president for education with the National Geographic Society, said in an interview with the Education Writers Association that he was "disappointed" with the results, but not surprised. "We're just not doing a good job educating people with geography," he said, lamenting that it is the lone core subject for which the Department of Education does not have a dedicated program.
"Geography has in fact been left behind," he said.
But as blogger Kevin Drum at Mother Jones points out, the test is quite challenging, and covers a broad swath of material that includes environment and economic development. That is somewhat comforting, because it suggests that many of the 80 percent of 12th graders who didn't pass the test would still be able to locate major countries on a map, for example.
Eighth graders are expected to know that a common language is most likely to lead to a "sense of cultural unity" among people. Fourth graders must answer that planting trees is the best method to prevent soil erosion. And 12th graders should know that developing countries mainly export raw materials and agricultural products.