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Vol. 45, No. 35

May 6, 2011

Nation’s Report Card on Civics Released

U.S. fourth-graders make academic gains

The National Center for Education Statistics released results of The Nations Report Card: Civics 2010 this week.  The report presents a broad view of how well U.S. students in grades four, eight and 12 are learning about their government and democratic citizenship.  It also compares the 2010 results with previous assessments conducted in 1998 and 2006.

The report shows that fourth-grade students posted their highest civics score since 1998, but high school seniors scored lower in 2010 than in 2006.  There was no significant change in the overall score for eighth-grade students compared to 1998 and 2006.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tested a representative sample of more than 25,000 students in public and private schools last year from January to March.  The sample included a total of approximately 550 randomly selected Missouri students, but the report does not provide information on the performance of individual states or students.

Assessment questions measured knowledge of basic concepts about constitutional democracy in the United States in five areas: civic life, the American political system, the constitution and principles of democracy, world affairs, and the roles of citizens in an American democracy.

Detailed findings include:

  • From 2006 to 2010, civics scores for female students increased significantly at grade four but decreased at grade 12.  On a zero to 300 scale, the average scale scores for fourth-grade girls rose by 5 points to an all-time high of 157, while the average score for 12th-grade girls fell 3 points to a low of 148.  There was no significant change in the average scores of boys and girls in grade eight, or boys in grades four and 12.
  • The percentages of white, black, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students scoring in the proficient achievement level were significantly higher than in 1998 (but not significantly different from 2006).
  • Hispanic students scored higher from 1998 to 2010 at all three grade levels. These gains narrowed the gap between white and Hispanic students in grades four, eight and 12, but eighth-graders narrowed the gap the most, scoring 5 points higher than in 2006 and 10 points higher than in 1998.
  • White-black achievement gaps persist.  For instance, white fourth-graders scored 24 points higher on average than black fourth-graders in 2010.  A similar gap existed in grade eight and a larger gap at grade 12.  In the 12th grade, the 29-point gap between white and black students was not statistically different from gaps in 1998 or 2006.
  • Less than one-half of 12th-grade students reported studying international topics, and the percentage of students studying the U.S. Constitution and about the president and cabinet has decreased significantly from the previous two testing cycles.

Funded by Congress, the NAEP has served as a national yardstick of student achievement since 1969.  Through the Nation’s Report Card, the NAEP informs the public about what American students know and can do in various subject areas, and it compares achievement among states, large urban districts and various demographic groups.

In April, the NAEP released its 2009 High School Transcript Study, which includes data about 2009 U.S. high school graduates’ coursework, academic credits and grades, and how this information relates to NAEP math and science scores.