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NAEP 1994 Geography A First Look :

Findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress

Revised Edition, October 1995

Authors: Paul L. Williams, Clyde M. Reese, Stephen Lazer, and Sharif Shakrani

Chapter 2: A First Look at the Average NAEP Geography Scores of America's Students

This chapter reports the average geography scale scores of students in grades 4, 8, and 12. Findings are presented for the nation, by region, and for major subgroups of students. (Appendix B contains sample questions and question-level results from the NAEP 1994 geography assessment.) The differences in assessment performance discussed in this chapter are statistically significant. Other group and regional differences in geography performance may exist, but they are not statistically significant.

Average Geography Scores for the Nation and by Region

Figure 3 and Table 2 present national and regional estimates of the average scores of fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders on the NAEP 1994 geography assessment. Across the nation, the average scores were 206 for fourth-graders, 260 for eighth-graders, and 285 for twelfth-graders. Among the various regions of the country, differences in NAEP geography scale scores were observed. At the fourth-grade level, students in the Central region outperformed those in the other three regions. At grade 8, students in the Northeast and Central regions had higher average scores than those in the Southeast and West. Among high school seniors, students in the Southeast had lower average scores than did those in each of the other regions.

Figure 3

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1994 Geography Assessment

Table 2

Average Geography Scores by Major Reporting Subgroups

Tables 3 through 6 present average geography scale scores for major subgroups of the fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade student populations.

Race/Ethnicity. Table 3 presents average geography scores for racial/ethnic subgroups. The 1994 geography assessment, like NAEP assessments in other subject areas, showed substantial variation in the average performance among the different racial/ethnic subgroups. At all three grades, White and Asian students had significantly higher scores, on average, than did Black and Hispanic students. In addition, at all three grades the average scores of Hispanic students were higher than those of Black students. At grade 4, White and Asian students outperformed American Indian students. In turn, American Indian students exhibited a higher average proficiency than Black students. Finally at grade 4, Pacific Islander students scored significantly higher, on average, than Black and Hispanic students.

For the Pacific Islander and American Indian student samples at grades 8 and 12, the nature of the samples does not allow accurate determination of the standard errors. For this reason, differences among these samples and other racial/ethnic subgroups are not discussed.

Table 3

Gender. As can be seen in Table 4, the differences in average geography scores between males and females are fairly consistent. At all three grades, males had significantly higher scores, on average, than did females.

Table 4

Parents' Education Level. As shown in Table 5, the NAEP 1994 geography results reveal a strong positive relationship between levels of parental education and student achievement. It should be noted that at grade 4 -- and, to a lesser extent, grade 8 -- substantial numbers of students do not know how much education their parents received. Furthermore, the accuracy of student-reported data is open to some question.[1] These caveats notwithstanding, the relationship between parental education and student performance remains striking.

At all grades, groups of students reporting given levels of parental education had significantly higher scores than all groups reporting lower levels of education. So, for example, students who reported that at least one parent had graduated from college displayed higher average scores than those who reported that at least one parent had some education after high school. The latter group in turn outperformed those who reported that at least one parent had graduated from high school. The sole exception to this pattern was at grade 4, where there was no statistically significant difference between students reporting that at least one parent was a college graduate and those reporting that at least one parent had received some education beyond high school.

Table 5

Public and Nonpublic Schools. Table 6 shows the NAEP 1994 geography results for students in public and nonpublic schools. As was the case in the NAEP 1994 reading and United States history assessments, students attending nonpublic schools (either Catholic schools or other nonpublic schools) had significantly higher average scores than did students attending public schools.

Table 6

As was noted in Chapter 1, the reader is cautioned against using these data to make simplistic inferences about the relative effectiveness of public and nonpublic schools. Average performance differences between the two types of schools are in part related to socioeconomic factors and sociological factors, such as levels of parental education. To get a clearer picture of the differences between public and nonpublic schools, more in-depth analyses must be undertaken.


  1. Looker, E.D., "Accuracy of proxy reports of parental status characteristics," in Sociology of Education, 62(4), pp. 257-276, 1989.

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Last updated 5 April 2001 (RH)

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