The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

An 8th Grade Education in 1895

Emails with a test from 1895 Salina, KS 8th grade have been floating around the Internet for some years, as an example of the decline in education. Here's a bit about these emails, and the US History questions from the Kansas test:

"What it took to get an 8th grade education in 1895...

 "Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the 8th grade in 1895? 

"This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in  Salina ,  Kansas ,  USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in  Salina , and reprinted by the Salina Journal.   

"U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of  America by  Columbus  
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the  United States  
5. Tell what you can of the history of  Kansas  
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion. 
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney,  Fulton ,  Bell ,  Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865."

The urban legends' site,, comments about it here with more details. Snopes argues that the email poses a misleading question to try to show that education has declined - "could you (the reader) pass this test." Snopes argues instead that those of us long out of school would not remember enough to answer all the test's questions correctly.

What Snopes fails to recognize is the implication that this is the level and type of knowledge which 8th graders were expected to know.  According to the results of a test commissioned recently by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, college seniors at top schools know very little of US history. I highly suspect most current 8th graders are not expected to know most of this information. 


Jeff said...

I think points out some of the more essential facts in the exam leading one to believe the exam was for an "Applicant" to become a teacher rather than for a student in the 8th grade to graduate.

Marsha Familaro Enright said...

Thanks for the information Jeff - good points in the analysis.

If this test was for teachers, does that imply that it was for high school graduates, as most teachers in the 19th century did not go to college?

I wonder whether most current high school graduates answer the questions correctly?