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Many Students Find Schoolwork 'Too Easy,' Report Says

If perception is reality, a lot of schools are failing to challenge their students, a Washington think tank concludes in a new report.

Drawing on a rich set of student-survey data, the Center for American Progress cites some alarming statistics in the report, released today. Many students, it seems, find their schoolwork is just too easy.

For example, a full 57 percent of 8th grade history students say their work is often or always too easy. Fifty-one percent of 8th graders say the same about civics. The result is better for elementary math, but still cause for concern: 37 percent of 4th graders say their math work is often or always too easy. (The math figure does decline as students get older, dropping to 29 percent at 8th grade and 22 percent in high school.)

"Images of sullen students buried in textbooks often grace the covers of popular parenting magazines, while well-heeled suburban teenagers often complain they have to work the hours of a corporate lawyer in order to finish their school projects and homework assignments," write co-authors Ulrich Boser and Lindsay Rosenthal of the Center for American Progress. Instead, they suggest that these images belie the reality for many students.

"If students are going to succeed in the competitive global economy, they need to be exposed to a rigorous curriculum," they write. "But many students believe their classwork is too easy."

The data come from background questionnaires of students in 2009-11 participating in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation's report card.

Here are a few more statistics:

• Nearly one-third of 8th graders report reading fewer than five pages a day either in school or for homework.

• 39 percent of 12th graders say they write about what they read in class hardly ever or only once or twice a month.

• 72 percent of 8th grade science students say they are not taught about engineering and technology.

• 65 percent of middle schoolers say they always or almost always feel like they are learning in math class (this figure drops to just under 50 percent for seniors).

The report's authors say their analysis leads to several recommendations, including a call for policymakers to continue to push for higher and more challenging standards.

"The common-core standards are one way to help states and districts make progress on this issue, but far more needs to be done," Boser and Rosenthal write.

In addition, they call for additional research into the use of student surveys.

"While the [NAEP] surveys clearly tell us something about students' experiences in the classroom, more sophisticated survey instruments must be developed to capture student perspectives."

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