History and Civics Scores for U.S. Eighth-Graders Decrease

May 3, 2023
Photo of a school classroom

These results are a national concern.

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Commissioner Peggy Carr on new federal assessments reflecting eighth-graders’ test scores in U.S. history and civics declining.
  • What To Know: On Wednesday, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as "The Nation's Report Card") released results from their latest assessment which tested around 8,000 eighth-graders in U.S. history and 7,800 eighth-graders in civics during early 2022. The NAEP's last assessment in these subjects – which measures students understanding of government principals and the significance of civic participation – was given in 2018.
  • Civics Scores: On average, eighth-graders scored 150 out of 300 in civics, with only 22% of students at or above the NAEP's Proficient level in the subject (a minimum score of 178/300). (See a graph of eighth-graders' past civic scores here.)
  • U.S. History Scores: On average, eighth-graders scored 258 out of 500 in U.S. history, with only 13% of the students scoring at or above the NAEP's proficient level (minimum score of 294/500). Since 2014, eighth-graders scores in U.S. history have declined. (See a graph of eighth-graders' past U.S. history scores here.)
  • The Questions? For civics, the test "included open-ended questions that asked, for example, for students to name one advantage of having the government operate programs to provide for the needs of people, and to describe a way that political candidates use technology during political campaigns" (The Associated Press). In U.S. history, one sample question provided by the NAEP asks students to determine which of the following (in a provided list) is a right in the Constitution's Bill of Rights.

Big Picture: For perspective on how eighth-graders have historically scored in U.S. history and civics assessments by the NAEP, the average scores of eighth-graders tested in both U.S. history and civics have never reached at or above NAEP's proficient level since the organization began testing in these subjects in the 1990s. Of 2022's results, Carr said, "Self-government depends on each generation of students leaving school with a complete understanding of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. But far too many of our students are struggling to understand and explain the importance of civic participation, how American government functions, and the historical significance of events."

Highlights from the NAEP's U.S. History Assessment

Highlights from the NAEP's Civics Assessment

Read our report on the NAEP's recent assessment on reading and math scores for fourth- and eighth-graders HERE

Check out the NAEP's Questions Tool HERE, where you can see the different questions asked for each grade level and for each subject tested by the organization – Test your knowledge!

by Jenna Lee,