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School is too easy, many students report

37 percent of fourth-graders say their math work is “often” or “always” too easy.

Millions of kids simply don’t find school very challenging, a new analysis of federal survey data suggests. The report could spark a debate about whether new academic standards being piloted nationwide might make a difference.

The findings, released July 10 from the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., think tank that champions “progressive ideas,” analyze three years of questionnaires from the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national test given each year.

Among the findings:

• 37 percent of fourth-graders say their math work is “often” or “always” too easy;

• 57 percent of eighth-graders say their history work is “often” or “always” too easy;

• 39 percent of 12th-graders say they rarely write about what they read in class.

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Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the center who co-wrote the report, said the data challenge the “school-as-pressure-cooker” image found in recent movies such as Race to Nowhere. Although those kids certainly exist at one end of the academic spectrum, Boser said, “the broad swath of American students are not as engaged as much in their schoolwork.”

Robert Pondiscio of the Core Knowledge Foundation, a Virginia nonprofit that pushes for more rigorous academics, says the pressure-cooker environment applies only to a “small, rarefied set” of high school students. The notion that “every American kid is going home with a backpack loaded with 70 pounds of books — that’s not happening.”

The data suggest that many kids simply aren’t pushed academically: Only one in five eighth-graders read more than 20 pages a day, either in school or for homework. Most report that they read far less.

“It’s fairly safe to say that potentially high-achieving kids are probably not as challenged as they could be or ought to be,” Boser said.

The center supports the new Common Core standards that are to be implemented nationwide in the 2014-15 school year. The standards, adopted by 45 states, are meant to be “robust and relevant to the real world,” giving schools “a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn,” according to the initiative.

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