I-06b: Civics Achievement of Fourth and 12th Graders as Measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1998 and 2010
* Statistically significantly different (p < .05) from 2010.
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress, The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2006, NCES 2007-476 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2007), 9 fig. 3; and U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress, The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2010, NCES 2011-466 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2011), 8 fig. 3, 21 fig. 12, 35 fig. 21.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics scores are reported here by achievement level. For an explanation of the achievement scale and detailed information about the writing competencies associated with each achievement level, see http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/civics/achieve.asp. The NAEP Data Explorer (NDE) permits analysis of these assessment data by gender, ethnicity, and a number of other key variables. For both an overview of NDE and tips for its effective use, see http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/naep_nde_final_web.pdf. NDE itself is located at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/. Understanding Differences in Achievement among Grade Cohorts Two types of explanation can be advanced for the lower levels of achievement in the higher grades. The first of these is a “cohort-based” explanation, which asserts that, in the case of students who took the 2010 NAEP civics examination, those born in the early 1990s are for some reason less receptive to civics instruction than their counterparts born in the early 2000s. The other type of explanation focuses on “age effects.” This explanation asserts that something about late adolescence—either the developmental process or high school education in the United States—is less conducive to civics learning. (See the “NAEP 2014 Best Practices: Guide for Supporting Twelfth-Grade NAEP Participation” and a study prepared for the National Assessment Governing Board for a description of how the timing of the high school assessment may be resulting in an underestimation of 12th graders’ achievement in civics and other areas. These documents also detail the steps that are being taken to boost student engagement in the assessment process.) The spacing of the NAEP civics assessments permits an investigation of these issues. Because a particular cohort of students can be followed over time (the sample of eighth graders who took the exam in 2006 was drawn from the same cohort as the sample of 12th graders who took the exam in 2010), researchers can “control” for cohort effects (i.e., reduce the possibility that observed differences between younger and older students’ achievement is attributable to differences between grade cohorts). The data provide some support for the second type of explanation; that is, student performance is linked to age. As students in the cohort progressed through their educational careers, the percentage demonstrating at least basic achievement decreased. However the picture was not one of unambiguous decline in civics achievement but of polarization, with students becoming increasingly concentrated at the two ends of the performance spectrum. In eighth grade, 30% of the cohort demonstrated less than basic achievement in civics. Upon reaching 12th grade, 36% failed to demonstrate at least basic competency.