Are students better in geography and history than 20 years ago?

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You think you’re smarter than an eighth grader?

Why did the apprenticeship system begin to decline in the first half of the 1800s?

  • A. The apprenticeship system was considered unsuitable for the increased number of women working outside the home.
  • B. The growth of the factory system led to a decreased need for skilled labor.
  • C. Many young men chose to become farmers instead of craftsmen.
  • D. Craftsmen began to use unskilled immigrant labor in their shops.

This is the type of question eighth-graders are asked every four years on a nationwide history assessment to test for proficiency — and they’re performing better than 20 years ago. But compared to four years ago, they have flat lined. And overall, proficiency rates remain very low.

Take a short sample quiz!

The results, from the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress released yesterday, looked at U.S. history, geography and civics. Students didn’t show any improvement from the 2010 test, but showed improvement in U.S. history and civics since the first test in 1994. For geography, they tested at a similar level.

Data is not released on a state-by-state level for these subjects.


Asian/Pacific Islanders saw a big jump in the percentage of students who tested as proficient. In 2010, 30 percent reached that level; in 2014, it was 40 percent.

Hispanic and white students performed slightly better than in 2010, while black students tested at the same level.

Only 1 percent of English Language Learners performed at a proficient level. In the core subjects — math and reading — the largest achievement gap is between English Language Learners and everyone else.


Every racial or ethnic group saw an increase from 2010 to 2014, but the growth rate for blacks and Hispanics trailed behind that of whites and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

U.S. History

Black students were the only group that did not have a larger percentage of proficient students in 2010. Eight percent of Hispanics tested as proficient, up from 6 percent in 2010. More students of two or more races tested as proficient — 28 percent, up from 28 percent in 2010 and 14 percent in 2006.

Fewer textbooks, more technology

The test also surveys students on how they learned a given subject. The most notable change is the form in which they were taught.

In U.S. history lessons, 64 percent of students in 2014 said they read material from a textbook — down from 73 percent in 2010. In 2014, 43 percent of students said they watched movies or videos — up from 34 percent. And in 2014, 25 percent said they used a computer for social studies or history — up from 18 percent. Similar changes were seen in other subjects.

Students also reported being slightly more interested in these subjects than in 2010.

See more data on The Nation’s Report Card.

What do you think?