Students Fail at Civics: NAEP History Exam Results at a Glance

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HNN Roundtable: Why Don't Students Know Anything About U.S. History?

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Highlights:  General Findings

  • Scores fall into 3 categories: basic, proficient, advanced
  • Questions fall into 4 basic themes: Democracy, Role in the World, Culture, Technology
  • 3 grades were tested: 4th, 8th, and 12th
  • No student in any grade level was asked to answer all questions
  • Students in both public and private schools were tested, but no breakout is provided of scores
  • The test employed a mixture of open-ended and multiple choice questions
  • Fewer than 25% of students perform at or above "proficient" level
  • Poor score lower on tests
  • Students with parents who went on to college score higher
  • Whites score 26 points higher than black and hispanic students
  • On some tests males scored slightly higher than females
  • The biggest improvements since the last test in 2005 is with 8th graders.
  • 84% of 8th graders say they are taking a US history class


Highlights:  Scores


4th Graders

  • Percent who could say when Columbus sailed, Jamestown was founded, the Constitution was written, and the Emancipation Proclamation was issued: 19
  • Percent who got at least 2 of the previous events correctly: 27
  • Percent who got one answer right: 23
  • Percent who could look at a picture of the Sioux and say how they used natural resources: 23
  • Percent who correctly identified the purpose of canals in the 19th century: 44
  • Percent who understand a passage indicating that Burma's leading rights activist wants the rights Americans enjoy under the Bill of Rights: 56
  • Percent who could identify the author of this statement: "The house divided against itself cannot stand": 39
  • Percent who knew which war broke out after this statement was made: 54
  • Percent who associate the Statue of Liberty with immigration: 68


8th Graders

  • Percent who could supply 2 facts about a picture showing slaves in a plantation field: 6
  • Percent who could cite a single advantage Americans had over the British in the American Revolution: 32
  • Percent who could correctly answer that higher taxes were one of the fateful consequences of the Seven Years' War: 47
  • Percent of people who opposed ratification of the Constituion because they "feared that the new national government would deny people their rights": 54
  • Percent who said that the most significant factor in the formation of the first Continental Congress was "Colonial frustration with laws passed by the British Parliament": 39
  • Percent who correctly identified Edison as the inventor of the phonograph: 48
  • Percent who correctly identified the main goal of US foreign policy between 1945 and 1990 was fighting communism: 26
  • Percent who associatyed Lend-Lease with WW II: 41
  • Percent who could explain the system of checks and balances: 22
  • Percent who could identify the primary author of the Declaration of Independence: 71


12th Graders

  • Percent who understood purpose of mercantilism: 40
  • Percent who could identify two of the advantages the South had in the Civil War: 26
  • Percent who knew The Jungle concerned abuses in the meat packing industry: 41
  • Percent who could associate a cartoon showing TR with a bick stick with TR: 45
  • Percent who could provide an example of big stick diplomacy: 14
  • Percent who understood William Jennings Bryan's attack on the gold standard in the Cross of Gold speech: 52
  • Percent who understood that F. Scott Fitzgerald criticized shallow materialism: 42
  • Percent who could identify a single reform movement in which religion played a central role after 1945: 5
  • Percent who could identify the 3/5ths clause in the Constitution: 9
  • Percent who understood what the Progressive Movement was all about: 36
  • Percent who understood a quote from Harry Truman about containment: 26
  • Percent who could provide two examples of containment: 13
  • Percent who understand the impact of Sputnik on the US: 74


Relative Achievement Levels of the Three Tested Groups


4th Graders
8th Graders
12th Graders