ERIC Identifier: ED360221
Publication Date: 1993-05-00
Author: Patrick, John J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Achievement of Goal Three of the Six National Education Goals.
In February 1990, the President and state governors proclaimed a set of six
national education goals to prompt profound improvements in schools and student
achievement by the year 2000. These six goals reflect widely held concerns that
most Americans have not been receiving the kind of education they need to meet
the challenges of twenty-first century life. This Digest addresses Goal Three of
the six national goals: "By the year 2000, American students will leave grades
four, eight, and twelve having demonstrated competency in challenging subject
matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography; and
every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds
well, so that they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further
learning, and productive employment in our modern economy."
PROGRESS TOWARD ACHIEVEMENT OF GOAL THREE: HOW FAR DO WE HAVE TO GO?
The academic achievement of secondary school students in the
United States tends not to meet the high expectations of Goal Three of the
National Education Goals. Summaries of student achievement in core subjects,
measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), reveal that a
majority of students are NOT developing intellectual capacities necessary for
democratic citizenship, lifelong learning, and productive employment in the
economic system (Mullis, Owen, and Phillips 1990 and U.S. Department of
The recently issued summaries of NAEP studies on various core subjects reveal
important findings relevant to Goal Three. Most students, for example, lack
ability to perform high-level cognitive operations in core subjects.
* Only seven percent of 17-year-old mathematics students are able to solve
multiple-step problems involving variables and solve linear equations.
* Only nine percent of 17-year-old students can use scientific knowledge to
infer relationships and draw conclusions.
* Only five to seven percent of 17-year-old students can synthesize data from
a variety of reading materials and read analytically or critically.
* Only five percent of U.S. history students can interpret detailed
information and related ideas from multiple sources to make connections between
various events and factors. The NAEP studies also reveal serious gaps in
students' knowledge of core subjects.
* Mullis, Owen, and Phillips (1990, 9) report that "only small proportions of
students appear to develop specialized knowledge needed to address science-based
problems, and the pattern of falling behind begins in elementary school."
* Less than 10 percent of 17-year-old students appear to have developed both
an understanding of key ideas in core subjects (e.g., mathematics, science,
literature, history, geography, and civics) and the ability to apply these ideas
to completion of high-level cognitive tasks.
* Less than half of 17-year-old students (41 percent) can locate, comprehend,
summarize, and explain complex information in text.
* High school students did "significantly less well" in civics in the 1988
national assessment than their 1982 counterparts (NAEP, 1990, 13). Large numbers
of students appear to lack knowledge and skills usually associated with
responsible citizenship in a constitutional democracy.
The United States ranks near the bottom among economically developed
countries on international assessments of students' knowledge of mathematics and
science. The gap in achievement between American students and their counterparts
in other countries increases as students move through the grades in school.
Fifth-grade students in the United States score near the median among their
counterparts in the international assessments; eighth-grade students fall
markedly below the median; and twelfth-grade students rank near the bottom in
comparison to students from the other countries (Darling-Hammond 1990, 287-288).
American respondents also ranked near the bottom in a recent international
assessment of geographical knowledge (Salter 1990, 8). These results are
consistent with various other reports of geographic illiteracy among large
numbers of American students (Stoltman 1990, 39-46).
If by the year 2000 American students are to leave school "having
demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter"--the core subjects of the
school curriculum--then large improvements in teaching and learning must be
accomplished. The current levels of student achievement fall far short of the
standard implied by National Education Goal Three.
FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH HIGHER LEVELS OF STUDENT
The various NAEP surveys of achievement in the 1980s included
information on background variables related to education. These data can be
related to student performances on the NAEP instruments to reveal factors that
are associated with higher levels of student achievement. For example, better
performances in the NAEP surveys of achievement have been associated with the
following factors: high educational attainment of parents, a home environment
where reading and discussions of ideas are valued, limited television viewing,
significant amounts of time spent on homework assignments, and a stable family
The NAEP reports also suggest relationships between systematic, substantial,
and stimulating exposure to core subjects and higher scores on tests of
achievement in these academic disciplines. Students who reported more
opportunities to study key topics and ideas in core subjects made higher scores
on the NAEP tests of achievement. Further, students who reported an early start
in studying core subjects, through substantial exposure to these content areas
in elementary school, tended to perform better in the NAEP surveys.
Another factor associated with higher achievement was active learning.
Students who said that their teachers required them to interpret and apply
knowledge to the completion of tasks tended to score much higher on these
assessments than did respondents who reported that their lessons were limited
mostly to passive reception of knowledge through lectures and textbooks. For
example, students in civics classes who reported participation in mock trials or
simulated congressional hearings tended to perform at a higher level on the
assessment of knowledge in civics than did students who were not involved in
these kinds of active learning experiences (NAEP 1990, 83-85).
A final factor associated with higher achievement levels in the NAEP surveys
was use of electronic technology in teaching and learning the core subjects. For
example, students with access to computers for problem solving tended to achieve
a higher proficiency in mathematics than those who did not use computers.
WHAT CAN SCHOOLS DO TO IMPROVE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN CORE SUBJECTS?
Several widely accepted ideas about what can be done to improve
student achievement are presented in the following short list. These ideas are
prominent examples, among many others, in the growing literature on reform and
restructuring of education in schools.
* Increase the quantity and quality of challenging subject matter that all
students are required to study in elementary and secondary schools, and
encourage more students to pursue advanced coursework in the core subjects
(e.g., English, mathematics, science, history, geography, and civics).
* Increase the amount of time in which all students, at all levels of
schooling, are systematically engaged in studying and learning the core
* Provide regular opportunities for in-depth investigations of key topics and
problems as an alternative to typical superficial surveys of subject matter.
* Emphasize active learning, thinking and doing in response to challenging
assignments, in contrast to passive reception of knowledge transmitted via
lectures and textbooks.
* Develop cognitive skills and processes, such as writing, by frequent and
systematic practice that involves teaching and learning of underlying processes,
such as the dynamics of written composition.
* Use multiple resources and media for teaching and learning--such as
electronic technology, primary documents, classic works of literature, and
science laboratories--instead of relying upon textbooks as the primary or
exclusive tool of instruction.
* Establish high expectations and common standards for student performance
based on the assumption that virtually all students can learn at high levels.
* Create a school climate that is conducive to student achievement through
the exercise of strong instructional leadership and maintenance of a safe,
stable educational environment.
* Involve parents in the process of education as monitors of homework
assignments, encouragers of academic achievement, and reinforcers of school
* Develop instruments for assessing student achievement that require
performance of high-level cognitive skills and processes--the application of
knowledge to complex problems and issues--instead of testing that merely
emphasizes recall of discrete information.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO IMPROVE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN CORE SUBJECTS?
Parents and guardians can help their children to learn core
subjects by doing certain things at home.
* Monitor homework assignments to make certain that they are completed
* View national and international news at least twice a week with children
and use a map to locate and discuss the places in the news.
* Encourage family viewing of television programs with academic content and
participate with children in post-program discussions of themes and issues.
* Provide learning resources in the home--books, magazines, and maps--and
read and discuss them with children.
* Guide children in productive use of free time, which should include
monitoring and limiting their viewing of television.
* Seek opportunities to examine and discuss school curriculum-related ideas
* Encourage school teachers and administrators to establish clear and
challenging standards about what all students should know and be able to do in
all core subjects of the school curriculum. Note: This ERIC Digest is a modified
and up-dated version of ERIC Digest EDO-SO-91-2, which was issued in April 1991.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 or (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
sections of most libraries by using the bibliographic information provided,
requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from UMI or ISI reprint
Butts, R. Freeman. ANALYSIS OF CIVIC EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES. Paper
presented at the International Conference on Western Democracy and Eastern
Europe, Berlin, Germany, October 18, 1991. ED 345 993.
Comer, James P. "Home, School, and Academic Learning." In ACCESS TO
KNOWLEDGE: AN AGENDA FOR OUR NATION'S SCHOOLS. John I. Goodlad and Pamela
Keating, editors, New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1990, 23-42. ED
Darling-Hammond, Linda. "Achieving Our Goals: Superficial or Structural
Reforms?" PHI DELTA KAPPAN 72 (December 1990): 286-295. EJ 418 155.
Mullis, Ina V. S., Eugene H. Owen, and Gary W. Phillips. ACCELERATING ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, AMERICA'S CHALLENGE: A SUMMARY OF FINDINGS FROM 20 YEARS OF NAEP. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1990. ED 325 500.
Nash, Gary B., and Linda Symcox. "Bringing History Alive in the Classroom: A
Collaborative Project." OAH MAGAZINE OF HISTORY 6 (Summer 1991): 25-29. EJ 445
National Assessment of Educational Progress. THE CIVICS REPORT CARD.
Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1990. ED 315 376. National Council on Education Standards and Testing.
RAISING STANDARDS FOR AMERICAN EDUCATION: A REPORT TO CONGRESS, THE SECRETARY OF EDUCATION, THE NATIONAL GOALS PANEL, AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. Washington, DC, 1992.
Salter, Christopher L. MISSING THE MAGIC CARPET: THE REAL SIGNIFICANCE OF
GEOGRAPHIC IGNORANCE. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1990.
Stoltman, Joseph P. GEOGRAPHY EDUCATION FOR CITIZENSHIP. Bloomington, IN:
ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1990. ED 322
Task Force on Education. EDUCATING AMERICA: STATE STRATEGIES FOR ACHIEVING THE NATIONAL EDUCATION GOALS. Washington, DC: National Governors' Association,
U.S. Department of Education. TRENDS IN ACADEMIC PROGRESS. Report No.
21-T-01. Washington, DC, 1991. ED 338 720.
U.S. Department of Education. WHAT WORKS: RESEARCH ABOUT TEACHING AND
LEARNING. Washington, DC, 1987. ED 280 940.