American eighth-graders continue to demonstrate lackluster knowledge and skills when asked basic questions about U.S. history, geography, and civics. New data shows that only between 18 and 27 percent of students scored "proficient" or "higher."
The results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is based on a representative sampling of more than 29,000 U.S. eighth-graders tested last year across the three subjects. (In history, for instance, it tested more than 11,200 students.)
Since 1998, scores have been inching upward in several topic areas, particularly for minority and low-income students. But overall there were no meaningful gains in student performance since the combined history, geography, and civics test was last given in 2010.
While scores overall have stagnated, student groups with historically low performance continue to inch up, and at a faster rate than their white peers with particularly rapid improvement by Hispanic kids.
The NAEP sample tests give a good idea of what students are being asked to do—it’s a lot more than just multiple choice questions. They must also interpret graphs and data, and demonstrate the kind of critical thinking skills that the Common Core State Standards are intended to promote.
The NAEP is just one indicator of student knowledge and skills, and it’s not designed to evaluate the merits of a particular educational program or intervention. Stephen Sawchuk of Education Week uses the term “MisNAEPery” to refer to the many examples of education advocates and policymakers using data from the assessments to whet their own particular axes.
(Jessica Brown’s thoughtful overview of the full report’s findings, and this fact sheet give a good overview on what NAEP does—and doesn’t—measure.)