DeVos: Drops in history, geography scores ‘stark and inexcusable’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday expressed her displeasure with the U.S. history and geography test scores released this week as part of a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The 2018 assessments — administered to 42,700 eighth graders in 780 public and private schools across the nation — showed a drop in both U.S. history and geography scores, while civics scores stayed the same from 2014.

“The results are stark and inexcusable. A quarter or more of America’s 8th graders are what [the National Assessment of Educational Progress] defines as ‘below basic’ in U.S. history, civics and geography,” DeVos said in a statement.

She added: “In the real world, this means students don’t know what the Lincoln-Douglas debates were about, nor can they discuss the significance of the Bill of Rights, or point out basic locations on a map. And only 15% of them have a reasonable knowledge of U.S. history. All Americans should take a moment to think about the concerning implications for the future of our country.”

The NCES noted in a release about the report that scores for all performance levels in U.S. history decreased, except for the highest-performing students. Similarly, geography scores for lower-performing students dropped while they stayed the same for middle- and higher-performing students. The trend follows similar decreases in the most recent eighth grade math and reading scores.

“These results are another indication that the achievement of already low performing students has been declining relative to higher-performing students,” NCES Commissioner Lynn Woodworth said. “This pattern raises another important issue for education researchers and policymakers to investigate as American school children are missing a considerable amount of classroom instruction this year, which is likely to have a larger impact on lower-performing students.”

DeVos said that the lagging test scores only further underscore the country’s “antiquated approach to education.”

“We cannot continue to excuse this problem away. Instead, we need to fundamentally rethink education in America. It is the only way our nation’s students will be in a position to lead our nation and the world,” she said.

The secretary’s proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year would slash federal education spending by more than $6 billion, a decrease of more than 8.5 percent.

In her budget, DeVos calls for a total restructuring of the nation’s K-12 grant programs. The budget would consolidate 29 elementary and secondary education grant programs into one block grant.

DeVos told senators in a subcommittee appropriations hearing last month that the restructuring would “unleash new innovation at the state and local level, and continue to expand proven reforms, including public charter schools, magnet schools and student-weighted funding.”

The plan, however, has been criticized by Senate Democrats. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told DeVos her proposed budget “fails to invest in our public schools, educators, students and families and ignores the voices of educators in my home state of Washington and across the country.”

Tags Betsy DeVos Betsy DeVos Department of Education NAEP Nation's Report Card NCES Patty Murray

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