Informed Citizens: A Look Into the State of BCHS Students’ Knowledge of Current Events

By: Joseph Clardy



The Issue
We live in the midst of the Information Age. With the advent of the personal computer, the internet, mobile phones, and social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, the news of the world can be accessed with the swipe of a finger. This wealth of information is a great thing, but it has come at a cost. With so many sources pushing so many stories it can be overwhelming to the average person being forced to take it all in at once. News sources, in an effort to alleviate this fire-hydrant blast of information, focus mainly on the biggest and “most important” stories, leaving “lesser” stories doomed to end up in the archives of their respective websites. As a result, our knowledge of current events can be spotty on average.


The Survey
I wanted to find out exactly how much the Barren County High student body knew about current events. To do this, I created a simple survey with four real events and one fake one. Students were asked to choose true or false for each event listed. The “true” events on the survey were the Charlottesville car attack, the reports of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, the vandalization of the Lincoln Memorial, and the information leak about the upcoming iPhone 8. For the “false” event I added that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had announced his plans to run for President in 2020 (which, at the time of writing, is not true). They were also asked to rank how confident they were in their knowledge of current events on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most confident. The survey was created Aug. 16, 2017.


The Students’ Performance
Of the 122 surveys, none were completely incorrect, and only 24 percent scored would have received a failing grade had this been an actual assignment. The class rankings in descending order based on average score (out of five) are as follows: seniors with a 4.38, sophomores with a 3.29, juniors with a 3.15, and freshman with a 3.13. There were only nine perfect scores among the 122 surveys, with eight of them being senior responses, and one being a freshman response.


The most missed question was number three: the Lincoln Memorial being vandalized. 90 of the 122 responses marked it as being a false event when, unfortunately, it truly happened on Aug. 12. Interestingly, when I was creating the survey I did not know this myself, and only found out about it after “digging” through articles for a considerable amount of time. This showcases the point I made earlier about how “lesser” stories will be pushed to the side so that more “important” stories will be more visible. At the end of the day, news sources are businesses. Their goal is to make money. In order to make money, they have to generate views on their articles so that they can earn advertising revenue. The best way to do so is to feature the “biggest” stories to spark interest in readers. As a result, people tend to see the same story from four different sources instead of four different stories from each source.


The least missed question was question one: the Charlottesville, Virginia car attack. Only 10 out of the 122 responses marked it as false instead of true. This is most likely due to the fact that it had recently happened and was plastered all over every possible news source.


Confidence Vs. Performance
Seven of the 122 responses did not write down a confidence level, so the following data comes from the 115 that did. 53 students rated themselves in the range of 7-10, 37 rated themselves in the range 4-6, and only 25 rated themselves rated themselves in the range 1-3. Overall, the students surveyed were fairly confident in their knowledge of current events.


The students that rated themselves 7-10 missed 1.5 questions on average, those that rated themselves 1-3 and those that rated themselves 4-6 both missed two questions on average. It is necessary to note that three of the students that rated themselves 1-3 got a perfect score! Four students that rated themselves 7-10 also got a perfect score, but no student that rated themselves 4-6 did. The other two perfect scores did not rate their confidence.


Our Students Compared to the Nation
On July 25, 2017 the Pew Research Center, a highly respected institution in the world of surveys and statistics, published the results of their nation-wide survey about global events. Of the data from those who had received at most a high school education or less (which would include the entire BCHS student body), the average score on the 10 question survey was a 4.3 / 10, or 43 percent. In comparison, our school’s average for the survey I conducted was a 3.3 / 5, which translates to 66 percent. So if the data collected in the survey is correct, BCHS students are, on average, 23 percent ahead of the national curve when it comes being knowledgeable in current events.


Reducing Bias
When conducting any sort of survey people have to deal with bias in the results. Bias comes in many shapes and forms, and can skew the overall results of a survey. I took as many steps as possible to prevent as much bias as I could from the results, but no survey is ever perfect. I made sure to omit any surveys that were clearly not given much thought (writing IDK next to each question, for example) and any that did not have a grade level written down (or had multiple, in one instance). I tried to get as many responses as possible to get the most accurate data.


One type of bias that I had to be sure to reduce is called Volunteer Bias, which is common in phone and online surveys. Basically, when you ask individuals to take a survey, those that respond are the ones that have strong opinions about the subject, which skews the results to favor their “side” (in this case being people who felt they knew a lot about current events). To prevent this, I made sure to survey entire classrooms (or lunch tables) when I conducted the survey, not just a few people from a classroom.


The only bias I feel I did not adequately fight off is simple Population Bias. I had larger numbers of junior and senior responses, and not as many Freshman and Sophomore responses. As a result, the data from freshman and sophomore responses are not technically as accurate as the data from the Junior and Senior responses.


Conclusions

When I began to work on this survey, I honestly thought that the results would be much worse than they actually were. After analyzing the data I collected, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Even though only nine of 122 students scored perfectly, 76 percent would have received a passing grade had this been a graded assignment. I would consider this a reasonable number to be content with in the average high school, but I think that the Barren County Trojans can do even better. To test the school’s growth, and my own, I will conduct a similar survey at the end of the year, and compare the two pass rates. I challenge you, readers, to reach 85 percent in the spring of 2018. I know you can do it.