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Posted at 10:59 AM ET, 05/04/2011

Federal tests find little progress in civics education

Only a tiny percentage of American students achieved superior performance in civics on the 2010 test known as the “nation’s report card,” according to results released Wednesday.

Bigger percentages -- but nowhere near a majority -- of students tested in grades 4, 8 and 12 scored at the proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only fourth-graders showed gains in civics from the federal tests taken a decade earlier.

The average 2010 score for fourth-graders, on a 300-point scale, was three points higher in 2010 than in 2006 and seven points higher than in 1998.

Furthermore, the results showed no significant change in racial or ethnic achievement gaps since 2006. White students, on average, scored 24 points higher than black students, and 27 points higher than Hispanic students.

There were no results reported separately for states or the District of Columbia.

NAEP attempts to track academic achievement in critical subjects, including math, reading, writing and science. The civics exam is designed to gauge how well students understand how government fuctions and how well they are prepared to become informed, active citizens.

Public officials have long lamented the lack of civics education in public schools and civic knowledge among young people. Some say that such deficiencies lead to low voter turnout. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has joined others in efforts to promote civics education.

Here are some 2010 results and recent trends:

*Students who performed at the advanced level, which represents superior performance:

— 2 percent of 4th graders

— 1 percent of 8th graders

— 4 percent of 12th graders.

There were no significant changes in the percentages of students at all of these grades in the advanced category compared to 2006 and 1998 administrations of the tests.

*Students who performed at or above the proficient level, which means that they have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter and achieved “solid academic performance to which all students at each grade assessed should aspire.”

— 27 percent of 4th graders

— 22 percent of 8th graders

— 24 percent of 12th graders

The percentages of students at or above proficient in 2010 were higher than in 2006 and 1998 at grade 4, not significantly different from the percentages in the previous years at grade 8, and lower than in 2006 at grade 12.

*Students who performed at or above the basic level, which means that they have achieved partial mastery of the knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at each grade.

— 77 percent of 4th graders

— 72 percent of 8th graders

— 74 percent of 12th graders.

The percentages of students at or above basic in 2010 were higher than in 2006 and 1998 at grade 4, but not significantly different from previous assessment years at grades 8 and 12.

*Students who performed below basic:

— 23 percent of 4th graders

— 28 percent of 8th graders

— 26 percent of 12th graders

*There were no significant changes from 2006 to 2010 in the average scores for any of the five racial or ethnic groups NAEP tracks: white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native.

But average scores were higher in 2010 than in 1998 for fourth-graders in all groups with results large enough to report. And the percentages of white, black, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students performing below the basic designation decreased from 1998 to 2010, while the percentages in those groups who showed proficiency increased.

Hispanic students made gains from 1998 to 2010 at all levels. For example, the average score for Hispanic fourth-graders rose from 123 in 1998 to 140 in 2010.

*Average scores for female fourth-graders increased since 2006, though there was no significant change in the score for male fourth-graders over the same period.

In 2010, female students scored 7 points higher on average than male students at grade 4. That was larger than the two-point score difference between the two groups in earlier assessment years.

The average score for female 12th-graders was lower in 2010 than in 2006 and 1998. There was no significant difference between the scores of female and male students in 2010 at grade 12 or grade 8.

The 2010 tests in civics were taken by about 7,100 fourth-graders, 9,600 eighth-graders and 9,900 12th-graders, all groups designed to be nationally representative of students in those grades.

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By  |  10:59 AM ET, 05/04/2011

 
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