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The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics examination is designed to gauge students’ proficiency in three civics areas: knowledge, intellectual skills, and dispositions. The most recent NAEP civics assessment, in 2014, was administered only to eighth graders. The most recent data available for elementary and high school students are from 2010. The only source of data that permits international comparison of young people’s civics achievement is the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s (IEA) periodic assessment, first administered in 1971 and again in 1999 and 2009. Because the United States opted not to participate in the latest study, the most recent data available on how U.S. 14-year-olds perform relative to their counterparts elsewhere in the world are from the late 1990s.

I-06a: Civics Achievement of Eighth Graders as Measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1998–2014*

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* Percentages for each year may not add to 100 due to rounding.
** Statistically significantly different (p < .05) from 2014.

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 2014: Achievement Levels, http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/hgc_2014/#civics/achievement, accessed 12/15/2015.

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 civics 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/.

I-06b: Civics Achievement of Fourth and 12th Graders as Measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1998 and 2010

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* 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.

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* Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. See http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001096 for results for all 28 countries participating in the study. Countries are ranked by the weighted average of their content and skills scores (this value is provided in parentheses to the right of the country name). Civics content knowledge scores were weighted more heavily than civics skills in determining the average.
** Weighted average of the two scores is statistically significantly lower (p < .05) than that of the United States.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics, What Democracy Means to Ninth Graders: U.S. Results from the International IEA Civic Education Study, NCES 2001-096 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001), 14 fig. 2.2, 15 fig. 2.3. “IEA” stands for International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

In 1999, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement assessment consisted of two components. The first focused on civics content knowledge, or theoretical knowledge about democratic institutions and practices, such as the purpose of political parties (25 items; click here for a sample item). The second component examined students’ civics skills; that is, interpretive abilities important in understanding political material, such as the ability to distinguish between facts and opinions or to critically read a political cartoon or pamphlet (13 items; click here for a sample item). The two scores were then averaged, with civics content knowledge scores weighted somewhat more heavily, to produce a total civics knowledge score for each nation.

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