America’s fourth graders have made significant gains in U.S. history and civics, according to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests in history and civics. According to the two reports, The Nation’s Report Card: U.S. History 2006 andNation’s Report Card: Civics 2006, overall achievement has improved significantly at all grade levels (fourth, eighth, and twelfth) in U.S. history, and at the fourth-grade level in civics. Meanwhile, civics achievement for eighth- and twelfth-graders has not changed significantly since 1998.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings tied the higher scores in history and civics to the greater focus on reading brought about by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). “For the past five years, No Child Left Behind has focused attention and support on helping students become stronger readers,” Spellings said. “The release today by The Nation’s Report Card on U.S. History and Civics proves NCLB is working and preparing our children to succeed. … As students’ skills in reading fluency and comprehension strengthen, so does their ability to do well in other subject areas. While critics may argue that NCLB leads educators to narrow their curriculum focus, the fact is, when students know how to read and comprehend, they apply these skills to other subjects like history and civics. The result is greater academic gains.”
While the improvement among twelfth graders marks the first time since 1998 that high school students have had a significant increase in achievement on a NAEP assessment, large percentages of high school seniors continued to perform poorly on both tests. In history, 87 percent of twelfth graders failed to perform at grade level, with 53 percent performing below the basic level. Results at the eighth-grade level were not much better, with 83 percent performing below grade level. Of that total, 35 percent performed below the basic level.
Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, used the results to push for greater attention to reading in the later grades. “For those of us working to improve the nation’s secondary schools, the results released today are encouraging, but it must be noted that while these scores are headed in the right direction, they still remain alarmingly low,” he said. “Low achievement in history and civics goes hand in hand with low achievement in high school literacy. If we want young people to become more knowledgeable about the nation’s defining historical events and founding principles, then we must invest in not just history and civics instruction, but also in high-quality reading and writing instruction throughout grades K–12.”
The complete results are available at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.