Our government's geography test: full of bias and errors

The National Association of Educational Progress is a government organization that tells us how our kids are doing in many subjects, including geography. But digging into the actual standardized test questions reveals some biased politics and bizarre geographic ideas. Let me give you one sample question that our American kids have to answer:
2010 ACTUAL QUESTION: Tropical forests are being destroyed at the rate of at least eleven million hectares each year, an area the size of Pennsylvania. About half of all tropical forests are already gone. Discuss two major reasons for this high rate of tropical deforestation.
OK, this is wrong on so many levels. Let's break it down:
"11 Million hectares destroyed" 
No serious scientist today would validate this number. It dates back to a rough estimate made by a single Brazilian scientist looking at satellite photos of fires in the Amazon—in the 1980s! Yeah, it's a 30-year-old number based on sketchy information. Scientists today put the number at one-tenth that figure.
"...each year."
This implies there is a steady onslaught of rain forest destruction. Not so. There were some bad years in the 1980s, but things have changed radically since then. A report from last year showed a 90 percent drop in lost forest area.
"About half of all tropical forests are already gone"
Why is this sentence here? Seriously; it is absolutely unnecessary. The only reason to include this sentence is to make a political point.
"Tropical Forests"
This seems like an innocent phrase, but it's actually very tricky. Note how the test uses the term "tropical forest" not "tropical rain forest" That's because the test writers know full well that most deforestation in the Amazon is taking place in the chaco (dry forest) which is not an area of biodiversity. The wet tropical forests have a much slower rate of deforestation than chaco land.
"already gone"
Another subtle bias here: The word "already" is unnecessary, added to create a sense of urgency. In truth, deforestation has been going on in the Americas for hundreds of years.

Don't misunderstand—I'm not in favor of deforestation. But a standardized test isn't the place to push a point of view. And this wasn't the only question that had an obvious agenda. You can read through the questions on your own here.


  1. Wow. I went and started looking and...wow. I stopped at two pages of notes about errors, omissions, and problems, and that's just from what I could see. The transportation questions are often incomplete or wrong, and they aren't as simple as hinted at in the questions.

    Example: where do you put a new traffic signal in town? The answer they want is at the 5-leg intersection, but that may not be either safe or efficient--5-leg intersections are notoriously hard to signalize effectively or safely. We have one of these intersections (signalized) where I live, and it causes no end of problems. It's really a human factors issue--there's too much going on at these intersections for drivers to keep track of. They were fine in horse-and-buggy days, but not now. (And crosswalks aren't necessarily safe, either.)

    Speaking of horse-and-buggy days...
    Example: What are the positive and negative impacts of cars? Let's put this in context--what came before were horses. Which is worse for human health, horses that "emit" gallons of liquid waste and many pounds of solid waste each day, plus require considerable food and water to live, plus are a disease vector and a problem when they die, or a car that emits ounces of gases a day?

    And on and on and on...I guess those who can, do. Those who can't, write standardized tests to show why they can't.

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