New NAEP Scores Show Poor Student Performance Nationwide

Published June 26, 2015

The latest 8th grade U.S. history, civics, and geography results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show no significant change from the previous assessment, which was conducted in 2010.

The 2014 NAEP scores, released on April 29, show only 18 percent of students scored proficient in U.S. history, 23 percent in civics, and 27 percent in geography.

Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom describes the NAEP scores as “bleak.”

“The scores weren’t particularly surprising,” said McCluskey. “We’ve known for quite some time that American students have pretty poor historical, geographical, and civic knowledge, and nothing has happened since 2010 that should have radically changed that. Indeed, the focus on mathematics and reading, to the possible detriment of history and civics, may have been amplified a bit with the move to Common Core standards, though since the advent of NCLB math and reading have been essentially the first and last words in school ‘success.'”

School Choice As Solution

Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, says parents need additional educational options for their children if scores such as these are ever to improve.

“It’s appalling that not even 30 percent of our nation’s 8th graders are proficient in subjects like civics and history—subjects that are so fundamental to our nation’s founding and democracy,” said Kerwin. “If we don’t act now and take bold steps to empower parents and accelerate the pace at which they have access to opportunities that dramatically change their children’s learning outcomes, we will not be able to move our nation forward.”

Middle Class Underachievement

Koret Senior Fellow and Senior Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute Lance Izumi says the unimpressive NAEP scores are an indication many parents believe their children’s schools are better than they are in reality.

“One of the key points to understand is that the low scores on the history, geography, and civics NAEP exams are not due only to the performance of low-income students,” Izumi said.  “Non-low-income students, many of whom are from middle class and more affluent backgrounds, underperformed on each of the NAEP exams. In fact, as a group, non-low-income students scored well below the proficient benchmark on the history, geography, and civics NAEP.

“The underachievement of these middle class students indicates that many schools in affluent areas are not as good as parents think they are and that middle class parents need to push for reforms like school choice that will help them and their children,” Izumi said.

Susan Meyers, a spokeswoman for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, agrees with Izumi, saying school choice will be necessary in order to see positive gains in measurements such as NAEP scores.

“Students can’t function in today’s world with such inadequate skills,” said Meyers. “Until we have significant school choice in every community and schools feel the pressure to compete for students, they will continue with the same tired and failed policies that are not educating our children. This is why parents want and deserve the freedom to choose a school that works for their child. They don’t have time to wait.”

Ignorance of Government System

Roger L. Beckett, executive director of the Ashbrook Center, an independent organization focusing on constitutional self-government at Ashland University, says students are missing important lessons regarding the American government and Constitution.

“The recent NAEP scores in history and civics further demonstrate America’s crisis in history and civics education,” said Beckett. “The test scores remain abysmal. America is an experiment in constitutional self-government. If we are not preparing future generations with an understanding of our past as well as an understanding of how American government works, we risk seeing this great experiment fail. Today’s tests show yet again how badly we need a revival of history and civics education in our schools.”

McCluskey says he is not convinced the disappointing NAEP scores will change anything.  

“These scores are not surprising, nor will they likely have much lasting impact on the public consciousness,” said McCluskey. “History, civics, and geography just don’t seem to matter that much in the current, top-down education system.”

Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by amanda_munoz.