Washington — Give a group of fourth-graders a map of the world and only half can label the North Pole, South Pole and equator.
Ask them why rock 'n' roll has spread all over the world and 70 percent can tell you.
The questions come from a national geography test given last year, the results of which were released Friday by the Education Department.
When asked to label maps with the three major geographic features, only 54 percent of fourth-graders put all three in their proper places; but 70 percent knew that TV and radio helped popular music spread across the globe.
Among the test's major findings:
The scores of fourth- and eighth-graders rose slightly since 1994, the first time the test was given. Twelfth-graders' scores were unchanged.
A total of 21 percent of fourth-graders, 30 percent of eighth-graders and 25 percent of 12th-graders scored at the proficient level. That means they showed solid academic performance and the ability to apply knowledge to actual situations, according to the National Assessment Governing Board, the independent group that developed the test.
The percentage of fourth-graders scoring basic or above rose from 70 percent in 1994 to 74 percent in 2001. More eighth-graders scored basic or above as well up from 71 percent to 74 percent. Scoring basic means students showed partial mastery for grade-level work.
Critics of President Bush's education plan contend its emphasis on testing children in reading and math could force schools to place less emphasis on social studies.
"I agree with the new federal legislation ... that reading and math skills are of critical importance," said Supt. Daniel A. Domenech of Fairfax County, Va. "But the social studies, including geography, are crucial, too. Our students must understand their world as well as master basic skills."
The 2001 test was given to about 25,000 randomly selected students, 90 percent of whom attend public schools.
The questions were sometimes difficult, and the results were decidedly mixed. For instance, 61 percent of high school seniors knew that Hinduism was the most widely practiced religion in India, but less than half could explain why early civilization flourished in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Three-fourths of eighth-graders knew that Florida was a peninsula, but fewer than one-fourth could explain why the earth's rain forests were being rapidly cut down.
Also, one in three fourth-graders couldn't find their state on a blank U.S. map and mark it with an X.