CONTACT:  Michele Clark
Communications Coordinator

Vol. 45, No. 53

July 21, 2011

Nation’s Report Card on Geography Released

Fourth-grade students, lowest performers made significant gains

The National Center for Education Statistics has released The Nation’s Report Card: Geography 2010, which gives an overview of how well students in grades four, eight and 12 are learning about the connections among our global economy, environment and diverse cultures.

A nationally representative sample of 26,500 students at public and private schools were tested last year through the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is the largest continuing and nationally representative measure of student achievement in the U.S.  NAEP geography results were compared to previous national assessments administered in 2001 and 1994.  State-by-state comparisons are not available for this assessment.

Students responded to questions designed to measure their knowledge of geography in the dimensions of content and context of space and place, environment and society, and spatial dynamics and connections.

“The study of geography goes far beyond memorizing state capitals and the continents,” said Sharon Hoge, assistant commissioner of the Office of College and Career Readiness at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  “There are many benefits for making connections with geography in all subject areas, such as mathematics, science, history, communication arts, music and more.  Knowledge of geography is important for students to learn how to reason scientifically and become responsible world citizens.”

The report shows that fourth-graders’ average scale score made a significant gain in 2010, resulting in their highest score to date.  On a scale of 0-500, fourth-graders’ average scale score was 213 in 2010, up 7 points since 1994. 

Although there were few increases overall, improvements were made in the percentage of students in the lowest-performing group.  Scores at the 10th percentile were higher in 2010 compared to 1994 for all grades.  Fourth-graders posted the largest gains; their score at the 10th percentile increased by 23 points.  In another positive trend, some gaps in achievement narrowed between racial and ethnic groups.

Detailed findings include:

    • Male students scored higher than female students at all three grades.   Males scored 4 points higher in grades four and eight and 5 points higher in grade 12.
    • Black students’ scores increased in grades four and eight, and achievement gaps narrowed.  Black students made larger gains since 1994 than white students in grades four and eight, narrowing the gap by 20 points in grade four and 9 points in grade eight.
    • Hispanic students’ scores increased in grades four and eight, but only in the fourth grade did the gap between Hispanic and white students' scores narrow.

Grade Four

    • The score distribution improved, with the lowest-performing students (10th percentile) having made the greatest gains.  In addition, the percentage of fourth-grade students scoring at the basic achievement level was significantly higher than in 1994 and 2001.  However, the percentage of students scoring proficient was not significantly different from previous years.
    • The average scale scores for white, black and Hispanic students were significantly higher in 2010 than in 1994 and 2001. Asian student scores were higher than in 1994 but no different from scores in 2001.

Grade Eight

    • The 2010 average scale score (261) had no significant change since 1994 (260).
    • The lowest-performing students (10th percentile) made the greatest gains, increasing from 213 to 220 points since 1994.
    • The percentage of students scoring at the basic achievement level was significantly higher than in 1994 and 2001; however, the percentage scoring proficient was not significantly different from previous years.
    • Racial/ethnic gaps between white and black students narrowed since 2001, resulting from a score increase by black students.  There was no significant change in the white/Hispanic gap.


Grade 12

  • The 2010 average scale score (282) was significantly lower than 1994 (285) and 2001 (284/285 depending on accommodations).
  • Scores decreased significantly for middle- and higher-performing students.
  • The percentage of students studying the three areas of geography significantly increased since 2001.  The percentage of students studying natural resources grew from 61 to 65 percent, countries and cultures grew from 81 to 84 percent, and environmental issues grew from 70 to 76 percent.

The Nation’s Report Card:  Geography 2010, Grades 4, 8, and 12 is available at  Additional information is available at