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Geography Top Story: Fourth-grade geography scores improve

The average score of fourth-graders on the NAEP geography assessment improved in 2010 compared to 2001. The scores for eighth- and twelfth-graders showed no statistically significant changes since 2001.

See a summary of the major findings.

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At each grade, students responded to questions designed to measure their ability to use geography tools and their knowledge of geography as it relates to particular places in the world, interactions between the environment and society, and connections among people and places.

Performance in geography at the Basic level

In the 2010 NAEP geography assessment, 79 percent of fourth-graders, 73 percent of eighth-graders, and 70 percent of twelfth-graders performed at or above the Basic level.

Examples of skills demonstrated by students performing at the Basic level:

Grade 4

  • Use a map to identify an import and an export of the United States from or to Canada
  • Recognize which is more likely to be found in a city than in a small town
  • Identify a use for land in the Great Plains

Grade 8

  • Identify the land use shown in a photograph
  • Identify which of four maps shows the most area
  • Identify a factor that contributed to U.S. westward expansion

Grade 12

  • Identify the map that best represents landmasses
  • Identify an activity that emits greenhouse gases
  • Understand the economies of developing countries

The NAEP Basic level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.

Performance in geography at the Proficient level

In the 2010 NAEP geography assessment, 21 percent of fourth-graders, 27 percent of eighth-graders, and 20 percent of twelfth-graders performed at or above the Proficient level.

Examples of skills demonstrated by students performing at the Proficient level:

Grade 4

  • Identify a state capital location
  • Create a weather map of South America
  • Recognize what prevents soil erosion

Grade 8

  • Explain the effect of a monsoon in India
  • Identify a cause of ozone depletion
  • Recognize why the Great Plains sod houses were built

Grade 12

  • Understand how the Great Lakes were formed
  • Explain the rate of natural increase
  • Identify the profile of the continent

The NAEP Proficient level represents solid academic performance, with students demonstrating competency over challenging subject matter.

Performance in geography at the Advanced level

In the 2010 NAEP geography assessment, 2 percent of fourth-graders, 3 percent of eighth-graders, and 1 percent of twelfth-graders performed at the Advanced level.

Examples of skills demonstrated by students performing at the Advanced level:

Grade 4

  • Use a map to understand city development
  • Identify differences between the city and the suburb and identify reasons for the differences
  • Identify reasons for or against using pesticides

Grade 8

  • Describe the impact of a highway on a landscape
  • Identify where the landform is found in a photograph
  • Describe changes in steel mills over time

Grade 12

  • Explain why the United States exports and imports
  • Use a table to explain the population density in Australia and Libya
  • Draw a cross section of South America

The Advanced level represents superior performance.

Use the tools to further explore NAEP geography...

Geography Item Maps illustrate the skills shown by students performing at different scale scores on the 2010 geography assessment.

NAEP Questions Tool presents all the released questions from NAEP geography assessments, with percent correct and scoring guides. You can sort by grade, question type, and difficulty.

Test Yourself on questions from the 2010 geography assessment and see how your score compares to the scores of students across the nation.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), various years, 1994-2010 Geography Assessments.

Explore the Geography 2010 Report Card

  • 2010 Geography Report CardBrowse the report online and link to the full data for each figure.
  • Download a copy of the report to print or share.
  • Read the statement from Jack Buckley, Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • Read the National Assessment Governing Board's news release (171 KB PDF).

View the Geography Framework

The Geography Framework serves as the blueprint for the assessment, describing the specific geography skills that should be assessed.

For more information, download the Geography Framework for the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress.