The Board of School Trustees of the District of Columbia in 1900 was no exception to the rule that school boards often make strange decisions. In its wisdom, it thought that "spelling was best learned incidentally, and not by the use of the spelling book, that arithmetic was to be acquired best by a method that eliminates the drudgery, and that the oral teaching of grammar is superior to the use of the textbook."

Some parents and employers in the District had reason to think otherwise. They persuaded a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia to conduct examinations to test the results of the board's modern educational theories.

To evaluate the work done in the first eight grades, the chief examiner of the Civil Service Commission was asked to prepare two examination papers, one in arithmetic and one in American history, to be administered to first-year high school students in the District. "Such an examination," it was thought, "should show the lower schools at their best, since . . . as a rule the better scholars keep on with their work beyond the eighth grade. Moreover certain studies have been completed before pupils enter high school, and the foundations of knowledge of English, American history, spelling, and arithmetic should have been laid."

The chief examiner had been instructed "to make the papers simple, easy to understand, and of so wide a range that the pupils should have no difficulty in answering them." The director of high schools, after suggesting a few minor changes, approved the tests. On March 6, 1900, approximately 2 1/2 hours were devoted to each of the examinations, which included these questions:


Find the total cost of the following: 3 3/4 pounds butter at 28 cents a pound, 9 pounds 9 ounces ham at 16 cents a pound, 8 pounds 10 ounces cheese at 24 cents a pound.

A man sold 3/8 of his farm for $3,900, what was 4/5 of the farm worth at the same rate?

What will it cost to carpet a room 54 feet long and 31 feet 6 inches wide with Brussels carpet 3/4 of a yard wide, at $1.24 per square yard, making no allowance for matching?

A coal dealer bought 840 long tons of coal at $6.72 per long ton of 2,240 pounds, and sold it by the short ton at $8 per short ton of 2,000. How much money did he gain?

A man bought a house for $2,500 and sold it for $1,875. What percent of the cost did he lose?

American History

Give a brief account of the Puritans, or of the Pilgrims, stating why so called, the county from which they came, their reasons for emigrating, where settled, and some of their characteristics, habits and customs.

State some of the important causes which led to each of the following named wars, and the nations or people involved in each: The French and Indian War; the Revolution; the War of 1812; and the rebellion, or civil war.

Select one of the following inventions and write a connected story about it: a. The cotton gin. b. The Steamboat. c. The telegraph. d. The telephone. f. The electric light.

Of the 1,800 students who took the exams, only 15 answered all of the arithmetic problems correctly and no one made 100 percent in the history paper. The average scores were 58,8 percent in arithmetic and 53.1 percent in history. The students, on the average, misspelled 3.9 words per history essay. A list of the most common misspellings included "attact, oder, riligeous, vessle, Florda, captian, presedent, represenitives, and Hugonots." (Do ninth graders today know who the Huguenots were?) And the following answers were given in the history paper:

"The exiles from england were called Pilgrims after the rocky coast of Plymouth upon which they landed."

"The French and Indian war was caused by the persecution of the lower class of people by the nobility."

"The war of 1812 was caused by a dispute over the ownership of land in the South."

After the test results were reviewed, the subcommittee concluded that "the examinations would seem to prove that the instruction in the lower grades of the District's schools does not fit the average pupil to use the English language correctly and fluently, nor does it give him a good training in arithmetic . . . . Startling as the results of these examinations are, similar results would be obtained in the majority of cities East and West."

Would the same conclusions be reached if those tests from 1900 were administered to the freshman class of 1979?


$4.65; $8,320; $234,36; $1,881.60; 25 percent.