In spite of major efforts on my part to rise above contemporary culture shock, I must admit failure, which perhaps can be excused because I tried really hard.
The surprise came when a friend described to me his recent correspondence with Shirley Tilghman, highly skilled professional educatrix, presently employed as the president of Princeton University. He questioned her as to the knowledge base in the subjects of history and government of the present undergraduate body, particularly with regard to the recent survey finding that, in general, the incoming freshmen-oops, make that freshpersons-seem to know more about such disciplines than the outgoing seniors.
There's an old joke on this subject: why are universities such vast repositories of knowledge? Because every year the arriving freshmen each bring a little in, while the outgoing seniors take very little with them, and so bit by bit the knowledge accumulates. And there's a parallel pattern in the public schools, as a recent (Nov. 17, 2008) oped in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian-Record describes "younger kids out-performing older kids year after year."
The NECAP test results in the St. Johnsbury school showed 36 percent of fourth graders proficient in science. By 8th grade, the proficiency percentage is down to nine.
We know that NECAP -New England Common Assessment Program-tests are designed to be easier than the Federal NAEP -National Assessment of Educational Progress-tests. This explains why Vermont schools spend extra money to purchase and administer the NECAPs, and then publish the seemingly superior scores. Largely unpublished (by intent) are the much lower scores from the NAEPs, which are free but mandatory, for a statistically selected sample of students. But this isn't a case of comparing the pay-to-use tests with the free tests; it's a case of measuring lower grade-level NECAP's against upper-grade-level NECAPs. The Caledonian-Record reports St.Johnsbury Superintendent Nicole Saginor describing the test results as "good news".