Scores rise in history, civics

Fourth, eighth and 12th graders understand more history and civics according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The new Nation’s Report Card compares students in 2006 to scores from 2001 in history and 1998 in civics.

Fourth graders made large gains.

. . . the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above the basic level in U.S. history increased from 64 percent in 1994 to 70 percent last year. In civics, the percentage scoring at or above basic climbed from 69 percent in 1998 to 73 percent last year.

The percent of 12th graders scoring at or above basic in U.S. history increased from 55 percent in 2001 to 61 percent in 2006. The National Assessment Governing Board, which conducts the regular test sampling of U.S. schools, said in a statement this was “the first time since 1998 that high school students have had a significant increase in achievement on a NAEP assessment.”

Analysts think fourth graders are reading better, making it easier for them to understand social studies. At the higher grades, the emphasis on raising reading and math scores doesn’t seem to have undercut history classes.

What do they know? In history:

* 46 percent of fourth graders identified Lincoln’s position on slavery from a well-known quotation
* 78 percent of eighth graders correctly interpreted a portion of the Gettysburg Address
* 67 percent of 12th graders knew that an important idea that helped shape the “Great Society” programs of President Lyndon Johnson was the belief that the federal government should play an active role in promoting social welfare.

In civics:

* 75% of fourth graders knew that while non-citizens are able to do such things as drive a car, own a business, or write a letter to a newspaper, only citizens can vote in a presidential election.
* 63% of eighth graders understood that it is an abuse of power for a policeman to arrest someone merely because he “looks suspicious.”
* 50% of 12th graders identified which prevails when state and national laws conflict

OK, they’ve got a long way to go, but at least they’re moving in the right direction.

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Comments

  1. How strange. Gains in one of the areas ignored by NCLB. Social studies has been getting less time, money, and attention. There are so many interpretations you could make–Money isn’t important? Time isn’t important? The teachers unencumbered by accountability regimes are doing the best? Kids are reading better, so NCLB works? It’s all a meaningless blip?

    I also wonder if the more saturated media environment isn’t increasing cultural literacy. I sure noticed that the poor rural kids I taught knew less of current events than similarly underachieving urban kids I’ve encountered, and I suspected that they just weren’t as bombarded by information.

  2. wayne martin says:

    This issue of civics and history failures of US students has been around for a while. It might be interesting to have someone correlate the NAEP scores with the proven failures of US public school and college students in these areas:


    H t t p : / / w w w ,washingtonpost.com
    Sunday, March 14, 2004

    Most students struggle with U.S. history

    Problems with subject transcend generations, education experts say
    By / Washington Post

    WASHINGTON — When the U.S. Department of Education reported that in 2001 nearly six out of 10 high school seniors lacked even a basic knowledge of the nation’s history, Bruce Cole was indignant and concerned.

    “A nation that does not know why it exists, or what it stands for, cannot be expected to long endure,” said Cole, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    From the Fordham Institute:

    Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong?
    by James Leming, Lucien Ellington, Kathleen Porter-Magee
    08/01/2003

    H t t p : / / w w w .edexcellence.net/institute/publication/publication.cfm?id=317
    —–

  3. wayne martin says:

    The following is just on of the areas of “improvement”:

    —-
    http://nces.ed.gov/whatsnew/commissioner/remarks2007/5_16_2007.asp

    • 40% of fourth-graders identified the 1960s and 1970s as the time frame of the Vietnam War rather than other wars
    • 33% of eighth-graders knew that the Monroe Doctrine, the Good Neighbor Policy, and the Alliance for Progress were all U.S. policies relating to Latin America
    • 14% of twelfth-graders identified a significant factor in U.S. involvement in the Korean War and explained its significance.
    While the “spin” of this article is that there is improvement, these results are abysmal.
    —-

    While the “spin” of this article is that there is improvement, these results are abysmal.

  4. I don’t know, Wayne. Isn’t 4th grade well before the time students usually learn about Vietnam? And 8th grade before the time students would learn about US foreign policy toward Latin America? I don’t know if I would have hit either of these marks, and I ended up knowing quite a lot of history.

    The item about 12th graders is a little more troubling, but it’s pretty well known that many high school US history classes only make it to around WWII.

    Obviously, things could be better, but this is about the least alarming set of stats I’ve seen in a while.

  5. wayne martin says:

    One of the complaints that appear about the NAEP is that it has set the bar too high, and it tests students on what the DoE “experts” think that students “ought” to know at each grade level. Where the bar is will always be a bone of contention between reasonable people, so here is the rest of the results in the public announcement about this year’s testing:

    • Democracy
    • 46 percent of fourth-graders identified Lincoln’s position on slavery from a well-known quotation
    • 78 percent of eighth-graders correctly interpreted a portion of the Gettysburg Address
    • 67 percent of twelfth-graders knew that an important idea that helped shape the “Great Society” programs of President Lyndon Johnson was the belief that the federal government should play an active role in promoting social welfare.

    • Culture
    • 65% of fourth-graders understood that southwestern Indians chose building sites in cliffs that afforded natural barriers against enemies and the elements of nature
    • 49% of eighth-graders gave three reasons why people settled on the Western frontier
    • 36% of twelfth-graders identified an immigration pattern and explained its causes.

    • Technological/Economic Change
    • 35% of fourth-graders explained how two inventions changed life in the U.S.
    • Almost two-thirds of eighth-graders knew that the cotton gin led to an increase in cotton production rather than leading to other possible effects on agriculture
    • 9% of twelfth-graders used information from a table to suggest and defend a thesis about lifestyle changes between 1900 and 1928.

    Almost none of these results are above 70%. I suppose it might not be all that exciting that 4th graders know, or don’t know, but the performance of the higher grades is disturbing. I suppose this would be one of these cases where people would want to look and see how many state standards provided adequate preparation for this test.

  6. Wayne, I’d take those results as abysmal. Perhaps they’re now at a less severe level of abysmal, but it’s still abysmal.

    And just teaching a few percent more kids to read well enough that they can read the question could account for the improvement.