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[Susan notes: Ha!

You can test yourself: Here are a few killer NAEP questions. ]

Published in Wall Street Journal

To the editor

Your article reporting 12th-grade students' deplorable lack of knowledge of American history ( Students Stumble Again on the Basics of History, U.S. News, June 15) suggests a range of reasons for this persistent lack of historical awareness.

But perhaps one cause is evident in the pop-quiz sidebar that purports to illustrate this deficiency: inaccuracy in testing materials. Among the three sample questions offered by the U.S. Department of Education is an exercise matching key dates with historical events. For "1863" the answer is "Abraham Lincoln announces the Emancipation Proclamation." This is incorrect. While the Proclamation took legal effect on Jan. 1, 1863, it was announced by President Lincoln in September 1862, following the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam.

If testing bureaucrats at the Education Department's National Assessment of Educational Progress can mess up one question out of three with their own historical inaccuracy, perhaps the problem of historical ignorance goes deeper than high-school students.

Erik Axelson

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