Thursday, September 25, 2008

Teaching history in US colleges

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute is out with the results of another quiz on college students' knowledge of American history and institutions and the report, as you might guess, is highly critical. I tend not to get into the sky-is-falling nature of these annual reports, especially when you attach letter grades to the percentages. I recall being a teaching assistant for two history classes one semester, both of which relied on multiple-choice tests. In once class almost everyone got a C or better, while in the other no one could get an A; the questions were just that much harder. Some of the questions here should be common knowledge, but others are certainly more obscure.

This is what caught my caught my eye [sorry about the formatting, but I just copied the table from the HTML]:

2006 NATIONWIDE RESULTSAverage Percent Correct by Subject and Class Year
Test Section Freshman Mean Senior Mean Value Added
Overall 50.4% 54.2% +3.8%*
American History 56.6% 58.8% +2.2%*
American Political Thought 52.0% 55.2% +3.2%*
America and the World 46.8% 50.8% 4.0%*
The Market Economy 44.9% 51.1% 6.2%*
* The difference between the freshman and senior means is statistically significant with confidence of 95% or greater across the 50 schools surveyed.

In other words, after four years of college, few students have learned significantly more than they knew coming out of high school. No matter how much you might want to praise the high schools, that's still a miserable performance.

You can take the quiz yourself. I scored a 95% (57/60) and was embarrassed about one of the errors (won't say which one).

1 comment:

Cranberry Necklace said...

I didn't take a single US history, poli sci, sociology or economics class in college. Nope. I took science classes whenever I could. Yet I got an 80% on this test. So I think they are right in suspecting that much of the subject matter tested here is taught in high school.