WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About a quarter of U.S. students are proficient in geography, according to a report released on Tuesday.
Twenty-one percent of fourth-graders, 27 percent of eighth graders, and 20 percent of 12th graders performed at or above the proficient level on the 2010 geography assessment conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Performance among fourth graders improved since 2001, while eighth grade results were little changed, and achievement by 12th graders declined from 1994 levels when the assessment was first conducted.
Also known as the Nation's Report Card, the survey is the last in a round of three highlighting stagnating or declining overall achievement among U.S. students in the social sciences, a statement said.
"In particular, the pattern of disappointing results for our 12th graders' performance across all three social science subjects should be of great concern to everyone," chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the report.
In June, the same body published a report that found fewer than a quarter of American students were scoring at or above the proficient level in history, although there was an improvement on past assessments for students in the fourth and eighth grades, while high school seniors had slipped from 2006.
To be proficient in geography means much more than being able to find Mongolia on a map, researchers said.
"Students were asked to look beyond place-name geography, and demonstrate their subject knowledge and problem-solving skills," said commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics Sean Buckley on a conference call.
"The Geography framework combines key physical science and social science aspects of geography and focuses on what students should know to be competent and productive 21st century citizens."
Minority groups narrowed the achievement gap in some grade levels, making larger gains than white students.
African-American students in the fourth grade closed in on their peers by 20 points on the 500 point scale and nine points at eighth grade.
Latino students scored higher in fourth and eighth grades, diminishing the difference with their white peers in the former.
The federal government assessment representatively sampled 7,000 fourth graders, 9,500 eighth graders and 10,000 12th graders.
Editing by Jerry Norton