In 2010, American students appear to be worse at U.S. history than any other subject. As The New York Times reported, only 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated "proficiency" (specific definition of that here) and 55 percent scored "below basic" (specific definition of that here, although you might be able to guess what that means--pretty poor) in nationwide testing. The findings arrive from the aptly-titled Nation's Report Card, a federal project that tracks a representative sample of 4th, 8th, and 12th graders in numerous subjects. The disconcerting results are par for the course historically: in 1994, 2004 and 2006 these seniors did pretty much the same on the tests (they have an interactive chart here).

Naturally, we wondered how hard these questions could be--and, to be honest, some are difficult. So below we've collected and adapted a few from the Report Card's sample questions (an interactive quiz is here). To add a bit more pressure, we also included what percentage of high school seniors got the answers right on each question. Just in case you felt like testing your recall against today's typical 12th grader:

Question One (46 Percent Answered Correctly): Why did Missouri’s application for statehood in 1819 cause a political crisis?

  • A: The United States had equal numbers of slave and free states, and Missouri’s entry would have upset the balance.
  • B: The United States had never before established a state west of the Mississippi, and Missouri’s entry would have likely caused conflict with American Indians.
  • C: Missouri was a center of abolitionist activity, and its admission would have antagonized southern states.
  • D: Missouri was a center of secessionist activity, and its entry would have antagonized northern states.

Question Two (22 Percent Answered Correctly): During the Korean War, United Nations forces made up largely of troops from the United States and South Korea fought against troops from North Korea and...

  • A: the Soviet Union
  • B: Japan
  • C: China
  • D: Vietnam
  • Question Three (56 Percent Answered Correctly)In colonial times, what made up much of the trade that went along the route marked I on the map [below center]?
  • A: Manufactured goods from the West Indies and slaves from North America
  • B: Sugar and rum from the West Indies and grain and meat from North America
  • C: Indigo from the West Indies and gold from North America
  • D: Dried fish from the West Indies and oil and coal from North America

Question Four (2 Percent Answered Correctly): Refer to this Supreme Court decision below:

To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority . . . that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. . . . We conclude that in the field of public education separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. —1954

Based on the quotation and your knowledge of history, describe the conditions that this 1954 decision was designed to correct. Be as specific as possible in your answer.

Answer Key:

1(A), 2(C), 3(B), 4: The 1954 decision was Brown v. Board of Education which ended racial segregation in schools.