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NCSS Response to the NAEP 2018 Grade 8 Assessment Results

Silver Spring, MD -- On Thursday, April 23, 2020, results were released from the 2018 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 8 Assessments in Civics, Geography, and U.S. History. 

The percentage of Grade 8 students who demonstrated proficiency in content knowledge and skills was 24% in Civics, 25% in Geography, and 15% in U.S. History. Overall scores in 2018, while not significantly different from 2014, indicated an across-subject decline. Trends across years document stagnant scores in Civics with U.S. History and Geography scores falling to or below achievement levels of 2001 and 1994, respectively. 

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) is deeply concerned by the 2018 NAEP results and contends that these results and larger achievement data trends affirm a long-standing social studies crisis since the assessment’s first administration in 1994. The social studies knowledge and skill gap in Grades K-8 is a pervasive problem, one that unequally affects students. The crowding out of social studies in elementary and middle schools is a cost too high for a pluralistic democracy that depends on an educated and civically engaged citizenry to thrive. Racial and socio-economic disparities in civics, geography, and U.S. history achievement confirm opportunity gaps for students from traditionally marginalized and economically vulnerable communities. NCSS calls upon policy makers and educational leaders to stop this cycle of curricular neglect and make a long-term financial commitment to support social studies educators in teaching social studies in all grades, in all schools, and to all students. NCSS calls for action to ensure that all students, no matter where they attend school, have access to deep, rich subject area content and exposure to relevant and powerful social studies instruction which leads to lifelong inquiry and informed civic action.  

NCSS President Tina L. Heafner said, “As unsettling as these scores may appear, NAEP results are not surprising as they reveal scores not unlike those we have seen for several decades on these same exams. The flatlined or diminished growth over time offers evidence that the decades of policy and instructional neglect of social studies in elementary school and the low priority of social studies in middle school have continued to hinder educational efforts to increase the percentages of students who perform at or above proficient levels on NAEP Civics, Geography, and U.S. History assessments. Social studies instructional time, course requirements, and resources have been gradually declining since the standardization movement and the subject's value diminished with each educational policy initiative that pushed civics, history, and geography out of the K-8 curriculum. Greater national attention toward policies such as technology, Common Core standards, and/or STEM, have influenced educational budget decisions in which fewer professional learning resources and opportunities are available for social studies teachers as compared to English language arts (ELA), math, and science. Moreover, disparities in eighth grade student performance when examining subgroups suggest a need for a more nuanced understanding of cumulative curricular, instructional, and resource inequalities within and across schools that begin in early schooling experiences and have lasting educational effects and long-term societal outcomes (e.g. the Civic Empowerment Gap).”

NCSS Executive Director Lawrence M. Paska said, “As our nation’s educational system seeks to prepare all students for college, career, and civic life, we must focus our attention on how that preparation begins in early childhood and elementary classrooms with social studies as the foundation of a well-rounded education. All students need equitable access to daily social studies instruction, high-quality social studies curriculum and assessments, and sustained opportunities for inquiry-based learning. The reduction or outright elimination of social studies instruction throughout the K-12 curriculum every day creates massive inequities of opportunity for students to learn and achieve. These inequities are reflected in academic progress by the time students reach grade 8. These NAEP results demonstrate the urgent need for deeper investments in social studies learning nationwide.”

Complete information on the NAEP assessment program may be found at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

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