Study Shows Lack Of Civics Knowledge By U.S. Students

Achievement by U.S. fourth graders in civics has increased while twelfth graders’ performance has declined, according to the Civics 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 4, 8, and 12 —known as The Nation’s Report Card.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2010 civics assessment was designed to measure how well fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders are learning the essential knowledge and skills of democratic citizenship and government. Comparing the results from the 2010 assessment to results from previous years (1998 and 2006) shows how students’ knowledge and skills in civics at these grade levels have progressed over time.

The 2010 report showed that fourth graders posted the highest civics score since 1998, with the percentages of students at or above the Basic and Proficient achievement levels higher than in 2006 and 1998. However, high school seniors scored lower in 2010 than in 2006, and had a lower percentage at or above Proficient compared to 2006. There was no significant change in the overall score for eighth graders compared to 2006 and 1998. Twelfth-grade girls scored lower in 2010 compared to the civics assessments in 2006 and 1998. Hispanic students made gains with average scores increasing from 1998 to 2010 in all grades.

The results are reported as average scores on a 0 to 300 scale and as percentages of students scoring at or above three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. Basic denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work. Proficient represents solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter. Advanced represents superior performance.

The 2010 NAEP civics assessment was administered by the National Center for Education Statistics to nationally representative samples of public and private school students, which included about 7,100 fourth graders, 9,600 eighth graders, and 9,900 twelfth graders.

The scores cannot be compared across grade levels. The civics assessment contained a mixture of multiple-choice and constructed-response questions for each grade level.

The assessment questions addressed three interrelated components: civic knowledge, intellectual and participatory skills, and civic dispositions. The civic knowledge questions assessed students’ understanding of civic life, politics, and government; the foundations of the American political system; how the constitutional government employs principles of democracy; the relationship of the U.S. to other nations; and the role of citizens in American democracy.

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