Many 8th graders score poorly on US history, civics exam

April 29, 2015 by Kimberly Hefling

Time for another history lesson. Only about a quarter of eighth graders showed solid performance or better in U.S. history, civics and geography on tests known as the Nation's Report Card.

The 2014 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress released Wednesday were similar to those four years ago when the assessments were last administered. Students did better overall in U.S. history and civics than their peers in the 1990s when the tests were first given, but geography scores have remained stagnant since 1994.

Among the findings: Less than half—45 percent—of eighth-grade respondents were able to correctly interpret time differences using an atlas with time zones. Only about a third knew that "the government of the United States should be a democracy" is a political belief shared by most people in the U.S.

Michelle Herczog, president of the National Council for the Social Studies, said the results "point to a need for immediate action." Tackling issues like terrorism, human rights, race relations and poverty require a deep understanding of the historical and geographic context, she said.

"How do we, as a nation, maintain our status in the world if future generations of Americans do not understand our nation's history, world geography or civics principles or practices?" Herczog said.

A breakdown of the test and results:

HOW STUDENTS DID

Only 18 percent of students demonstrated solid performance or better in U.S. history. The results for geography and civics were slightly better, 27 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

A large share of the eighth graders who took the test scored at the "basic" level, meaning just partial mastery of the subjects. Only 1 percent of test takers in U.S. history, 3 percent in geography and 2 percent in civics scored in the advanced level.

White and Asian students performed better than their Hispanic and black peers. Although the scores overall were similar to 2010, Hispanic students made gains in U.S. history and geography and white students made gains in U.S. history and civics. The scores of black and Asian students didn't budge in the three categories.

OTHER FINDINGS

About two-thirds of the eighth graders were able to use a map to locate a country on the Horn of Africa, but only a quarter successfully completed a two-part question that involved explaining how the participation of African-Americans in the Civil War affected the war's outcome.

WHO TOOK THE TEST

A nationally represented sample of 29,000 eighth graders from public and private schools took a test in one of the three subjects.

It is administered by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics.

HOW STUDENTS LEARN

History class is going digital.

Compared to four years earlier, more students in 2014 reported using computers at school in their U.S. history and social studies classes. Fewer said they read material from a textbook and more listened to information presented online or watched movies or videos. More of them said they use letters, diaries or essays written by historical people in their studies.

The assessment is not designed to provide the context needed to explain student performance or what works in classrooms.

SAMPLE QUESTIONS

Question: The Supreme Court's 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison established the court's power to:

—Impeach a president

—Decide whether a federal law is constitutional

—Resolve conflicts between states

—Resolve conflicts between the president and Congress

(asterisk)(The answer is B, which 41 percent of students chose correctly.)

Question: What is one responsibility that modern Presidents have that was not described in the Constitution?

A) Commanding the armed forces

B) Granting pardons

C) Appointing Supreme Court justices

D) Proposing an annual budget to Congress

*(The answer is D, which 38 percent of students chose correctly.)

Explore further: US report card: Scores up, but not all good news

More information: Online: NAEP results: www.nationsreportcard.gov/hgc_2014/

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5 comments

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EWH
1 / 5 (1) May 04, 2015
In other news, about 36% of the students were Black or Hispanic, with 85% of the former and 65% of the latter having IQs less than 100, compared to about 50% below 100 for the non-Hispanic Whites, who are only a little over half of the 8th-grade population. As a group, students below 100 IQ are not going to learn and remember much in any subject.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (3) May 04, 2015
Only about a quarter of eighth graders showed solid performance or better in U.S. history, civics and geography

Seems to be that eighth-graders are good at spotting what subjects are pretty pointless to spend any effort on.

The types of questions mentioned in the article are prime examples of how to fill childrens' heads with useless garbage. Learning stuff by rote is busy work with no benefit to the student.

As a group, students below 100 IQ are not going to learn and remember much in any subject.

Careful. IQ tests are a dicey subject. They are designed by "white" people with a "white" mindset (not in a racist sense, but different cultures tend to produce different thought patters. Hispanics score substantially higher when IQ tests are designed to test more for creativity than pattern matching)
ryggesogn2
2.5 / 5 (2) May 04, 2015
No surprise there.
Public schools stopped teaching US History and Civic decades ago.
Mayday
4 / 5 (1) May 04, 2015
I was in line at a local grocery story two weeks ago, when in a parallel line there was a man in costume for an event who looked rather uncannily exactly like Abe Lincoln. Real beard, top hat and all. He was a dead ringer. After he left, the young woman at his cash register turn my way and with a slightly embarrassed expression said, "who is that? He looks familiar." She seriously had no idea. I kid you not.
EWH
1 / 5 (1) May 05, 2015
"They are designed by "white" people with a "white" mindset (not in a racist sense, but different cultures tend to produce different thought patters. Hispanics score substantially higher when IQ tests are designed to test more for creativity than pattern matching)"

You can believe that if you like, but it won't make it true. IQ tends to ovepredict minority performance, not underpredict. There are no tests of creativity worthy of the name - there is no construct validity, let alone valid norming. What IQ test are you referring to that has a creativity component, and is it as g-loaded as standard IQ tests?

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