The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Raiders of the Lost Ark and U.S. Stagnant Test Scores: Are We Digging in the Wrong Place?

Robert O. Slater, The University of Louisiana at Lafayette (United States)

Dorothy F. Slater, The University of Louisiana (United States)


The striking lack of progress in American K-12 student achievement over the last two or three decades for reading and mathematics, and over the last 10 years for science calls to mind a line from the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Sallah, played by John Rhys-Davies, realizes where the Germans are looking for the lost Ark and declares to Indiana Jones, “They’re digging in the wrong place!”. Perhaps we too have been digging in the wrong place in our search for higher test scores.

U.S. 4th grade scores in reding, mathematics and science, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, have been stagnant for the last 10, 20, in some cases even 30 years[1].  In 2009, for example, U.S. 4th graders averaged 149 out of 300 points possible on the NAEP science test.  Ten years later, In 2019, the average score was 150, only one point higher   Again, in 2003, the average 4th grade NAEP score in mathematics was 234 out of 500.  Almost 20 years later, In 2022, it was 235, one point increase in nearly two decades.  Finally, in 1992, the average 4th grade NAEP reading score was 215 out of 500. In 2022, thirty years later, it was 216.  The question is why so little progress? This paper examines three hypotheses designed to help explain the stagnant scores.  The first is that elementary teachers lack basic knowledge.  The second is that the dominant pedagogy in U.S. elementary schools is a “sit and get” instructional mode.  The third is that poor students’ performance is keeping scores depressed. Based on data from the General Social Survey (GSS), and from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the first two hypotheses cannot be rejected but the third can.[2]


Elementary Science, Science pedagogy, teacher development,  



[1] U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment ofEducational Progress (NAEP), 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2022

[2] Smith, Tom W., Davern, Michael, Freese, Jeremy, and Morgan, Stephen L., General Social Surveys, 1972-2018 [machine-readable data file] /Principal Investigator, Smith, Tom W.; Co-Principal Investigators, Michael Davern, Jeremy Freese and Stephen L. Morgan; Sponsored by National Science Foundation. --NORC ed.-- Chicago: NORC, 2019.



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