Knowledge of civics among the nation’s eighth-graders fell for the first time since the federal government began testing children under the current framework in 1998, according to new results that come amid a broader concern about pandemic-era learning loss.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, known as the Nation’s Report Card, also show a 5-point decline in average scores in history.
Poor performance: Results from exams administered in the spring of 2022 offer a window into the state of academic performance in social studies following pandemic disruptions to learning, a bleak look regarding the level of understanding of the nation’s history, government and democratic processes. The tests are administered every four years by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.
“The latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress further affirms the profound impact the pandemic had on student learning in subjects beyond math and reading,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement, noting the abysmal math and reading NAEP scores released last fall.
“It tells us that now is not the time for politicians to try to extract double-digit cuts to education funding, nor is it the time to limit what students learn in U.S. history and civics classes,” the secretary said.
Key context: Average history marks have fallen for nearly a decade with scores dropping 9 points since 2014 (from 267 to 258, out of a possible 500). This puts history test scores close to the 1994 score when the test was first administered under the current framework , 259. Student performance across all history themes tested — democracy, culture, technology and world role — all saw decreases. In civics, the 2-point downturn puts the average score in 2022 at the same level as 1998 (150 out of a possible 300). For both history and civics, there were widespread declines in scores across most races and ethnicities.
What’s more, lower-performing students had larger score declines than higher-performing students. In history, students who scored in the bottom 10th percentile had a 7-point drop between 2018 and 2022 and students in the 90th percentile had no significant score drop at all.
“For U.S. history, I would say that I was also very, very concerned, because it’s a decline that started in 2014 long before we even thought about Covid,” NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr told reporters. Adding that she thinks “a larger concern that we need to think about is what is happening with our lower performing students across all of these subjects.”
Carr’s suggestions for improving scores: More social studies lessons for students. Nearly half of eighth graders, 49 percent, said they were taking courses mainly focused on civics and 68 percent said they took courses mainly focused on U.S. history, a slight decline from 2018. Both results point to a portion of students who are getting some or no formal history and civics classes.
“Teachers, practitioners need to get this content in front of students. When you look at what they don’t know, and it’s not just about reading, it’s about content, facts, information about our constitutional system. Students don’t know this information,” Carr said. “That is why they’re scoring so low on this assessment.”