Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Senator from Pennsylvania Yields to ... Pottstown!

Sen. Pat Toomey meets with students from Pottstown High School in a Dirksen Senate Office Building committee room on April 24.
Blogger's Note: Once again, we are indebted to the tireless John Armato for the constant flood of information he provides us (and you) about Pottstown schools. 
(We added a little more to spice up the subject matter.)

During a visit to our nation's capital last month -- April 24 to be exact -- Pottstown High School students from the American government and Advance Placement U.S. Government and Politics classes met with the Commonwealth's junior senator.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R) met with students from led by social studies teacher Maureen Rieger.

The students also toured the U.S. Capitol.

It's certainly a pleasure to see our youth getting a on-the-spot look at how our government works, because according to at least one national assessment, we need more of it.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress report card issued last May, reports that fourth although grade understanding of civics has risen in the last 14 years, reaching the highest level since 1998, high school seniors understand even less than they did in 2006 about how our modern democracy works.

Eighth grade scores remain largely unchanged from scores in 1998 and 2006.

The NAEP civics assessment measures the knowledge and skills critical to the responsibilities of citizenship in America’s constitutional democracy.

There are bright spots.

Although 12th-grade girls scored lower in 2010, compared to the civics assessments in 2006 and 1998, Hispanic students made gains with average scores increasing from 1998 to 2010 in all grades.

Let's remember that U.S. Census figures show that probably by the time the next Census is taken in 2020, Hispanics will no longer be a "minority" in the U.S., but the majority. It's comforting to know they understand how the country works.

(Between 2000 and 2010, the nation's Hispanic population grew by 42 percent, accounting for more than half the population growth in all the United States.)

Here is a look at what the civics assessments measured.

By the way, this is according to a release on the test results  that was posted on the National Center for Education Statistics Web site.

"The 2010 NAEP civics assessment was administered by the National Center for Education Statistics to nationally representative samples of public and private school students, which included about 7,100 fourth graders, 9,600 eighth graders, and 9,900 twelfth graders. The results are reported as average scores on a 0 to 300 scale and as percentages of students scoring at or above three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced" -- phrases those familiar with Pennsylvania's PSSA test will recognize.

Here are examples of what the scores mean:
  •  At grade 4, students who scored at or above the Basic level (77 percent) were likely to identify a method used to select public office holders, students scoring at Proficient (27 percent) could identify a purpose of the U.S. Constitution, and students at Advanced (2 percent) could explain two ways a country could deal with a shared problem. 
  • At grade 8, the 72 percent of students who performed at or above the Basic level were likely to identify a right protected by the First Amendment, the 22 percent who performed at or above the Proficient level could recognize a role performed by the Supreme Court, and the 1 percent who scored at the Advanced level could name two actions that citizens could take to encourage Congress to pass a law. 
  • At grade 12, the 64 percent of students who performed at or above the Basic level were likely to interpret a political cartoon, the 24 percent scoring at or above Proficient could define “melting pot” and argue whether or not the phrase applied to the U.S., and the 4 percent scoring at Advanced could compare U.S. citizenship requirements to those of other countries.
The NAEP keeps track of other subjects too. If you would like to check out their "Nation's Report Card" click here.

As the world these students will inherit becomes more complicated; as privacy rights are debated in an age where we share an uncomfortable amount of private information on the Internet and the government's spying powers continue to expand; as issues of gun rights, as same sex marriage rights and abortion rights get debated with increasing frequency and vitriol, having a population that understands how these conflicting interests get parsed democratically becomes more important than ever.

Hopefully, our education system can meet the challenge in an age of diminished funding and diminished respect for the value of education.

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