Eighth-Graders’ U.S. History and Civics Scores Decline, Raising Concerns Over Civic Knowledge

According to the recently released Nation’s Report Card by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the scores of eighth-graders in U.S. history and civics have shown a decline between 2018 and 2022. This marks the first-ever decline in civics scores and continues a downward trend in U.S. history scores since 2014.

NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr expressed concern over the findings, emphasizing the importance of a well-rounded education that includes a strong foundation in democratic principles.

“Self-government depends on each generation of students leaving school with a complete understanding of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.” Said Carr. “But far too many of our students are struggling to understand and explain the importance of civic participation, how American government functions, and the historical significance of events.”

In U.S. history, scores declined across all performance levels except for the very top-performing students. For civics, scores declined for lower- and middle-performing students, while remaining unchanged for higher-performing students. The percentage of students performing below the NAEP Basic level increased in both subjects, with 40% of eighth-graders scoring below the Basic level in U.S. history.

The decline in U.S. history scores has been consistent since 2014, with eighth-graders’ average score dropping from 263 in 2018 to 258 in 2022. Scores were lower across all levels of performance, except for the top-performing students. Only 13% of eighth-graders scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level in U.S. history, the lowest proportion among all subjects assessed by the NAEP program.

In civics, eighth-graders’ performance declined from 153 in 2018 to 150 in 2022, marking the first decline ever recorded in this subject. However, the score in 2022 was not significantly different from the score in 1998, the first year of assessment using the current framework. 22% of eighth-graders scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level in civics.

The report also highlighted the decline in scores across different racial and ethnic groups. Scores for Black, Hispanic, and White students all showed a decrease between 2018 and 2022. In both U.S. history and civics, scores were lower across all four assessed themes, including American democracy, culture, technology, and America’s role in the world.

The findings raise concerns about the understanding of important historical events, civic participation, and the functioning of American government among eighth-graders. The report also noted a decrease in the percentage of students taking classes focused on U.S. history.

The Nation’s Report Card provides valuable insights into the knowledge and skills of eighth-graders in U.S. history and civics. The decline in scores calls for renewed efforts to ensure that students have a strong foundation in these subjects, as they are crucial for active participation in American democracy and civic life.

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