History, civics scores drop on national test for U.S. students On the "Nation's Report Card," history scores were the lowest ever, and civics showed the first decline ever.

History and civics scores drop for U.S. eighth-graders on national test

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1173432887/1173612146" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The results from the assessment known as the Nation's Report Card are out today, and they show significant declines.

A MART├ŹNEZ, HOST:

The new numbers on how well students in this country are learning their history and civics aren't good.

FADEL: NPR's Sequoia Carrillo joins us now to walk us through the findings.

Good morning, Sequoia.

SEQUOIA CARRILLO, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: OK, so let's get right to it. How bad are these numbers?

CARRILLO: So the scores are low. The history scores are the lowest recorded since the assessment began back in 1994. And this year marked the first-ever drop in civics scores. And this data comes from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAEP. It's a test administered every four years to a representative sampling of eighth graders across the country.

For history, it has students look at different categories like democracy, culture, technology and world role. This year, there were declines in all subjects. In fact, only about 14% of students reached or exceeded the proficient mark in history. And in civics, only 22% of students met that same benchmark. Those are significant drops from the last time students were tested back in 2018.

FADEL: Wow. I mean, is this something we should have expected? What are the factors, maybe, that played a role here - pandemic?

CARRILLO: The pandemic definitely played a role. And this was just not a normal four years for students. But we already knew that. There was actually a bigger warning sign back in October when the counterpart to this assessment in math and reading came out. And yesterday when I was talking through these latest scores with experts, they said the dips in reading and math from the fall gave a big indication of what was to come here.

And it makes sense if you think about it. If kids are already struggling with reading, then when you test them on documents like the Federalist Papers or a section of the Constitution, they're going to have trouble with it. Teaching history is built on the foundation of reading comprehension. So as one goes down, so goes the other. But in this case, it just dropped more than expected.

FADEL: What about civics?

CARRILLO: This subject was harder to predict. There's been some research that when there's a high-profile election, civics scores can go up because there are lessons in government and democracy. So they're not just learning about it in the classroom, but they're also seeing it happen around them in real life. So there was some hope that these civics scores would hold or even go up with the 2020 election and, of course, the high-profile midterms last year. But they did not. They actually dipped for the first time.

FADEL: So a lot of struggling students out there, if there are declines in reading and math and now history and civics. What's a path forward for these students? What are educators going to do?

CARRILLO: I talked with Kerry Sautner from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia about exactly this. She's an educator in civics and history and says the subjects are very intertwined. But like I said before, so is reading - so are many subjects. So what do we do when we have significant drops in everything? And here's what she told me.

KERRY SAUTNER: In all reality, we need to make sure our kids are engaged citizens, and that means they need to be informed with the knowledge and the skills to do this work. And that takes every class.

CARRILLO: Meaning not just pouring more resources into reading and math, but working to improve schools across the curriculum. And at a time when there are huge concerns about what Americans know of their history and how their government works...

FADEL: Yeah.

CARRILLO: ...This issue couldn't be more vital.

FADEL: NPR's Sequoia Carrillo. Thank you so much.

CARRILLO: Thank you.

Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.