NAEP-Fact-Sheet-2013.pdf - What the NAEP Civics Assessment...

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What the NAEP Civics Assessment Measures andHow Students Performby Peter Levinewith support from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. FoundationJanuary 2013Only eight states currently test their students on American government or civics(usually as part of a much broader social studies test), and so relatively little isknown about young people’s civic knowledge,skills, behaviors, and values.1Giventhe paucity of state data, the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) in Civics receives predominant attention. The fact that only about onequarter of students typically reach the “proficient” level on the NAEP Civicsassessment is probably cited more than any other statistic about civic education, andit is often used to support proposals for adding civics requirements.Indeed, civic education deserves increased attention, and students’ knowledge maybe problematic, but these interpretations of the NAEP are based onmisunderstandings. This fact sheet explains how to interpret its results.Background on the NAEP Civics assessmentThe NAEP system was designed to give a regular national “report card” on students’academic proficiency to inform citizens and policymakers. Each NAEP is a test-likeassessment on one subject given to randomly sampled American students. In Civics,the NAEP assessment is now administered to more than 21,000 students everythree years. Equal thirds of the participants are fourth graders, eighth graders, and12th-graders.Compared to other prominent tests and surveys in civics, the NAEP is the mostcarefully designed and validated and has the largest national sample. Whereasexisting state civics tests rely exclusively on multiple-choice questions, the NAEPCivics assessment also includes short essays, which are better measures ofadvanced skills.
2Although participation is voluntary, response rates are generally high. Of the fourthgraders in public schools who were asked to participate in 2010, 99% did so, alongwith 92% of 12th graders in public schools (but just 62% of 12th graders in privateschools).2A more significant source of bias may arise from a lack of motivation. Theassessment has no stakes for individuals, schools, or districts; in fact, teachers andstudents are not even told their own performance. Given the lack of consequences, itis very unlikely that students study or prepare for the NAEP. Teachers have noreason to align their curricula to the NAEP’s content, unless it happens to matchrequirements of their state or district.The NAEP scores do not indicate whether students’ civic knowledge issufficientTypically, the release of NAEP Civics results is treated as evidence that studentsknow far too little about civics. The most recent results (from the 2010 assessment)generated an article inThe New York Timesentitled “Failing Gradeson Civics ExamCalled a ‘Crisis.’”3Only 24% of 12th graders were deemed proficient, and a similarnumber reached proficiency in 4th and 8th grade.

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Civics, Form of government, National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP

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