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History and civics scores drop for U.S. eighth-graders on national test

LA Johnson
/
NPR

Scores in U.S. history and civics for eighth-graders are down across the U.S., according to recent results from the assessment known as the "Nation's Report Card." This year's history scores are the lowest recorded since the assessment began in 1994, and the new data mark the first-ever drop in civics.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement that the results, from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, further underscore the "profound impact the pandemic had on student learning."

The results follow recent national declines in reading and math among students in grades four and eight.

NAEP assesses history and civics proficiency for eighth grade students in a nationally representative sampling given every four years. The results released today, from exams taken by students in 2022, mark the first to include the pandemic years.

The history test assesses students in different categories, including democracy, culture, technology and world role of the U.S.. This year, there were declines in all those subject areas.

The scores in U.S. history declined five points, from 263 in 2018 to 258 in 2022, continuing a downward trend that began in 2014. Only 14% of students reached at or above "proficient" mark in history, and in civics only 22% of students met the same benchmark.

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Kerry Sautner, the chief learning officer at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, said she has been bracing for these results since the reading and math results came out in the fall: "When we saw the reading scores drop, it kind of felt like, 'well, that's a little prelude to what you're going to see in civics and history.' "

She notes that the teaching of civics and history are heavily based on reading comprehension, and if that foundation isn't solid, it's hard to build up. Unfortunately, Sautner added, with the declines now evident across multiple subjects, the question becomes: "How are we going to mitigate this when we have significant drops in everything?"

Conservatives are likely to seize upon the latest results as further evidence for new approaches to traditional public schools, such as voucher programs or charter schools.

Secretary Cardona instead urged states to address the problems head-on, and alluded to the recent attacks on public schooling in the ongoing culture-war over education:

"Now is not the time for politicians to try to extract double-digit cuts to education funding," he said in a statement. "Nor is it the time to limit what students learn in U.S. history and civics classes."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sequoia Carrillo
Sequoia Carrillo is a reporter for NPR's Education Team. Along with covering big stories like the student debt crisis and segregation in K-12 schools, she reports on innovation in the education space — sometimes for Code Switch.