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The Test 12th Graders Flunked

Diane Ravitch famously asked, years ago,"What do our 17 year olds know"? Judging by new test results released on May 9 by the National Center for Education Statistics the answer remains: not much.

Researchers surveyed some 23,000 students in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades at over a thousand schools (both public and private) in 2001. Below is a list of sample U.S. history questions most 12th graders missed.



The United States acquired large portions of the Southwest as a result of the:

A) War of 1812
B) Mexican-American War
C) Civil War
D) Spanish-American War

Students who knew the correct answer? 40 percent.


The struggle between President Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans was mainly over:

A) United States alliances with European nations
B) the nature and control of Reconstruction
C) the purchase of Alaska
D) whether or not to have a tariff

Students who knew the correct answer? 34 percent.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact are best described as two:

A) organizations founded by the European Economic Community to promote trade between Europe and the United States
B) treaties negotiated between the Allies and the Central Powers at Versailles after the First World War
C) bodies established by the United Nations to promote peace within multiethnic European countries such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia
D) military organizations made up, respectively, of the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies during the Cold War

Students who knew the correct answer? 30 percent.


The policy described was part of a larger policy of the Truman administration that was referred to as:

A) nativism
B) massive retaliation
C) isolationism
D) containment

Students who knew the correct answer? 26 percent.


The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (1964) was significant because it:

A) ended the war in Korea
B) gave President Johnson the authority to expand the scope of the Vietnam War
C) was an attempt to take foreign policy power away from the President
D) allowed China to become a member of the United Nations

Students who knew the correct answer? 29 percent.

BUT ...



In which book did Upton Sinclair describe the terrible working and food-production conditions in the meat-packing industry?

A) The Grapes of Wrath
B) The Pit
C) The Octopus
D) The Jungle

Students who knew the correct answer? 60 percent.


What was Bryan arguing in his"Cross of Gold" speech?

A) Free coinage of silver would cause a depression.
B) The gold standard was needed to preserve economic stability.
C) The gold standard harmed some groups in society.
D) The government should stop buying silver immediately.

Students who knew the correct answer? 52 percent.


"We now know what we should have known then — not only was the evacuation wrong but Japanese Americans were and are loyal Americans." -- Gerald R. Ford, 1976

The"evacuation" that Ford refers to directly affected:

A) Japanese Americans and German Americans
B) Japanese citizens living on the East Coast
C) United States citizens of Japanese descent
D) Japanese soldiers serving in the United States Army

Students who knew the correct answer? 55 percent.