Eight out of 10 high school seniors understand economics basics, but less than half are deemed proficient in a first-ever test.
Fresh out of high school, how many American students understand the basic economic forces at work in their own wallets or their country's trade policies?
For the first time, national test scores have revealed what 12th-graders know about economics and personal finance. The results aren't likely to set off the same kind of alarm bells triggered by national tests on reading and math, but observers also see plenty of room for improvement.
Seventy-nine percent of a nationally representative sample scored at or above a basic level – meaning they could understand and apply a limited set of economic concepts relating to microeconomics, the national economy, and, to a lesser extent, the international economy. Forty-two percent scored "proficient" or above, because they could analyze a wider range of economic issues; 3 percent were "advanced."
"The Nation's Report Card: Economics 2006" was released Aug. 8 by the US Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
The proportion of students at each performance level are as good or better than other subjects tested by NAEP, "so I would say that's encouraging," says Darvin Winick, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets NAEP policy.
"Obviously we'd like to see them better," he says of the scores, but he's also heartened that "the number of students that report having some kind of exposure to economics or finance is quite high" – about 8 out of 10 seniors. This test is the first in what will be a series that can show if there's progress over time. Timing for the next economics test depends on federal funding, but it is scheduled for 2012.
Advocates of economics education see a less rosy picture.