Study shows students perform poorly on history and civics

Kelly Petryszyn

Kent professor ties scores to focus on application of course material

A majority of college seniors scored a failing grade on a test of basic history and civics, according to a recent study released by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

The study gave out an exam to a sample of 14,000 randomly selected freshmen and seniors at 25 randomly selected schools and an over-sample of 25 highly selective colleges throughout the nation.

The University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy researched the study for the institute. A panel of scholars made up a multiple choice test of 60 questions focusing on America’s history, government, relations in the world and market economy.

According to the study, both freshman and seniors scored a little over 50 percent. Harvard seniors scored the best with only a 69 percent.

Professors said that the reason for these results may be that history taught in college is about more than learning facts.

“History courses – it’s less about memorization and more about application,” said Kenneth Bindas, academic chairman for the history department, adding that at a university level, it is more about looking how the people in history interacted and what led to those interactions.

Elizabeth Brooks, non-tenured track assistant education professor, said the last thing students need to do is memorize facts. Facts help explain information to have a better understanding of it.

Looking over sample test questions, Brooks said some of the facts are not very specific and not basic to regular citizenship education.

According to the study, students did not memorize facts well from their freshman year through senior year. The best performer in the survey, Eastern Connecticut State University, gained 9.65 points from freshmen to senior year. The worst, Cornell University, had seniors score 4.65 points lower then freshmen.

“I think it’s a normal life curse,” Bindas said, adding that the application helps freshmen recall what they learn, but without application the information isn’t retained as well.

Students said if they aren’t a history major, history is most likely taken as an LER freshman year and forgotten.

Senior gerontology major Emily Owen said she doesn’t remember anything from her high school history classes, but she said learning facts isn’t the focus of college.

“You’re going to college for you major,” she said.

Brooks said freshman’s attitudes toward history may also be a reason some seniors aren’t doing as well.

“Freshman in college are taking things more seriously than seniors do,” she said. “There is such a thing as senioritis, and it is a deadly disease.”

The reason for student’s lack of knowledge on history can be traced back to grade school.

“No Child Left Behind puts tremendous emphasis on math and reading. Social studies can be neglected,” she said. “This takes place, especially in grades K-6, where many of the skills get introduced.”

Still, students believe it is important to know their roots.

“I think it’s important to know where you come from,” junior marketing major Zane Powell said. “It might give you more insight to know where to go from there.”

Contact news correspondent Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected]