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Test scores for 8th-grade students decline in US history and civics following prior declines in math and reading, report says

<i>Getty Images</i><br/>Test scores for eighth-grade students in the US declined in both US history and civics in 2022
Getty Images
Getty Images
Test scores for eighth-grade students in the US declined in both US history and civics in 2022

By Laura Ly, CNN

Test scores for eighth-grade students in the US declined in both US history and civics in 2022, according to a new report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card.”

The announcement of the new lower scores come after the assessment reported last fall scores for American nine-year-olds in reading and math fell by a level not seen in decades.

“Self-government depends on each generation of students leaving school with a complete understanding of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship,” Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the assessment, said in a statement.

“But far too many of our students are struggling to understand and explain the importance of civic participation, how American government functions, and the historical significance of events. These results are a national concern.”

In history, scores have been consistently declining since 2014. In 2022, the score — on a scale from zero to 500 — decreased by five points compared to 2018 and is approximately nine points lower than it was in 2014, the assessment data show.

The declines were seen across various American history themes, including democracy, culture, technology, and the changing role of the US in the world. In 2022, 40% of students scored “below basic” proficiency, an increase of six percentage points since 2018, the data show.

“Eighth-grade students performing at the NAEP Proficient level should be able to incorporate geographic, technological, and other considerations” in their understanding of US historical events, assessment officials said.

The percentage of eighth graders who said they were taking classes focused mainly on US history also declined from 72% in 2018 to 68% in 2022, according to the assessment.

The declines in average eighth-grade civics scores fell by a smaller margin of two points — on a scale from zero to 300 — since 2018, but the decrease marked the first decline in civics test scores since testing began over two decades ago, the data show.

Only 22% of students tested in 2022 were found to be proficient or advanced in civics. To demonstrate proficiency, students were asked, among other assessments, to show an understanding of the US Electoral College system. They should also “be able to discuss ways that citizens can use the political process to influence government,” the report said.

The declines in history and civics further illustrate the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on educating children. In January, a research paper published in the journal Nature Human Behavior found children lost about 35% of a normal school years’ worth of learning during the pandemic.

In 2022, around 8,000 eighth graders were tested in civics and history. Around 6,000 to 20,000 students are tested per grade nationwide for each school subject and the number of schools and students “vary from year to year, depending on the number of subjects and questions to be assessed,” the report said.

The assessment is “the largest continuing and nationally representative assessment of what our nation’s students know and can do in subjects such as mathematics, reading, science, and writing. Standard administration practices are implemented to provide a common measure of student achievement,” according to the assessment’s website.

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