Humanities Indicators
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K-12 Education  >  National Measures of Achievement
 
Knowledge of Civics
(Updated January 2016)

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics examination is designed to gauge students’ proficiency in three civics areas: knowledge, intellectual skills, and dispositions. The most recent NAEP civics assessment, in 2014, was administered only to eighth graders. The most recent data available for elementary and high school students are from 2010.

The only source of data that permits international comparison of young people’s civics achievement is the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s (IEA) periodic assessment, first administered in 1971 and again in 1999 and 2009. Because the United States opted not to participate in the latest study, the most recent data available on how U.S. 14-year-olds perform relative to their counterparts elsewhere in the world are from the late 1990s.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2014, 24% of all U.S. eighth graders scored at or above the proficient level on the NAEP civics exam, essentially the same share that has scored at that level since 1998 (Indicator I-4a).[1] The share of students who scored at the below basic level in 2014 was 26%, four percentage points smaller than among students who took the test in 1998 and 2006 but not statistically significantly different from 2010.
  • As was true of the NAEP assessments in other humanities subjects, lower levels of competency were observed among older students, with only 64% of 12th graders demonstrating at least basic achievement in 2010 (Indicator I-4aa). In comparison, 77% of fourth graders, and 72% of eighth graders scored at the same level that year. (Click the “About the Data” button under the graph for a discussion of possible explanations for this phenomenon.)
  • From 1998 to 2010, the share of U.S. fourth graders’ who demonstrated less than basic achievement on the NAEP civics assessment decreased from 31% to 23%. This decrease translated into gains not only in the share of students demonstrating at least basic achievement but in the proportion displaying proficiency in the subject.
  • On the civics skills portion of the IEA, the United States outperformed all of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, as well as the non-OECD nations, that participated in the 28-country study (Indicator I-4b).
  • The United States did not score as well on the civics content knowledge portion of the IEA, coming in behind several other OECD countries. U.S. 14-year-olds ranked fourth in overall civics achievement, though the difference between their overall score and that of the three OECD leaders—Poland, Finland, and Greece—was not statistically significant. (Each nation’s overall score is the weighted average of their content and skills scores [this value is provided in parentheses to the right of the country name on the graph for Indicator I-4b]. Civics content knowledge scores were weighted more heavily than civics skills in determining the average.)
I-4a: Civics Achievement of Eighth Graders as Measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1998–2014*

* Percentages for each year may not add to 100 due to rounding.
** Statistically significantly different (p < .05) from 2014.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress, The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2014: Achievement Levels, http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/hgc_2014/#civics/achievement, accessed 12/15/2015.

About this DataRelated Indicators
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I-4aa: Civics Achievement of Fourth and 12th Graders as Measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1998 and 2010

* Statistically significantly different (p < .05) from 2010.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress, The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2006, NCES 2007-476 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2007), 9 fig. 3; and U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress, The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2010, NCES 2011-466 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2011), 8 fig. 3, 21 fig. 12, 35 fig. 21.

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indI-4aa.xls../cmsData/ppt/indI-4aa.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indI-4aa.pdf
I-4b: Levels of Civics Knowledge among 14-Year-Olds in Selected OECD* Countries and Russian Federation, 1999

* Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. See http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001096 for results for all 28 countries participating in the study. Countries are ranked by the weighted average of their content and skills scores (this value is provided in parentheses to the right of the country name). Civics content knowledge scores were weighted more heavily than civics skills in determining the average.
** Weighted average is statistically significantly lower (p < .05) than that of the United States.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics, What Democracy Means to Ninth Graders: U.S. Results from the International IEA Civic Education Study, NCES 2001-096 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001), 14 fig. 2.2, 15 fig. 2.3. “IEA” stands for International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

About this DataRelated Indicators
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Endnotes

[1] The differences between the 2012 share scoring at the proficient level and the 1998, 2006, and 2010 shares were not statistically significant at the 5% level. Proficiency, as measured by NAEP, is grade-specific. The knowledge and skills a fourth grader must demonstrate to be considered proficient are different from those that a 12th grader must demonstrate. For definitions of proficiency in civics for each of the grade levels, see https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/civics/achieve.aspx.