National Center for Education Statistics
May 2007

As conscientious Gadfly (and newspaper) readers know, the 2006 NAEP U.S. history exam showed some recent gains in students' understanding of the nation's past. Not so for civics. Although the share of fourth-graders who possess at least "basic" knowledge of civics inched up from 69 percent in 1998 to 73 percent in 2006, for eighth- and twelfth-graders the trend line is flat. Why did fourth-graders (who rarey study civics anyway) improve while older students didn't? Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews quotes experts who say that "Higher scores in fourth-grade history and civics go along with the recently reported higher [fourth-grade] reading scores." The Department of Education is touting this logic, too. But nobody seems able to explicate why history scores rose in eighth- and twelfth-grade but civics outcomes didn't budge. Still, the need for progress is obvious. Consider: only 43 percent of twelfth-graders "described the meaning of federalism in the U.S.," and just 28 percent of eighth-graders "explained the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence." For more depressing news, see the report here.

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