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NCSS Response to the Updated NAEP Schedule

On Wednesday, July 24, 2019, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) issued a press release on its updated schedule for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The updated schedule includes changes to the NAEP Civics and U.S. History assessment frameworks and administration, and the elimination of the NAEP Economics and Geography assessments. There are five changes affecting social studies education:

  1. The next Civics and U.S. History assessments in grade 8 will be moved from 2022 to 2021, and grades 4 and 12 will be postponed until 2029.
  2. New assessment frameworks for Civics and U.S. History will be introduced in 2029.
  3. State-level results for voluntary assessments for Civics in grade 8 will be added in 2029.
  4. National assessments for Civics and U.S. History in grades 4, 8 and 12 will be conducted in 2029.
  5. The Economics and Geography assessments are eliminated.

Collectively, this updated schedule represents a complicated matter for social studies education in general and for our National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) community in particular. Regrettably, the decision by NAGB did not appear to include input from the social studies field, or specifically from NCSS, the nation’s largest professional association for K-12 social studies education. As NCSS believes that there is an interdisciplinary nature to social studies that intersects the four core disciplines of civics, economics, geography, and history, the decision to assess only two (and not all four) of these disciplines undermines the very purpose of social studies learning and splinters the K-12 curriculum. This decision creates a hierarchy among the four core disciplines within the social studies in which civics and history are privileged over economics and geography, when in fact these four core disciplines work in tandem to prepare all students for college, career, and civic life. Since the lives of all citizens are deeply affected by what happens at home and throughout the world, each discipline contributes essential knowledge to enable individuals to function effectively as citizens and productive members of society.

NCSS defines social studies as the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence. Social studies promotes knowledge of and involvement in civic issues. These issues–including health care, crime, foreign and public policy, and individual financial decision-making–are multidisciplinary in nature. Therefore, all students require knowledge and skills in civic, economic, geographical, and historical reasoning, as well as problem-solving, decision-making, and inquiry, to act as responsible, informed citizens able to understand and develop resolutions to these issues. The College, Career, and Civic Life (“C3”) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, published in 2013 by NCSS in partnership with 14 other national organizations, defines social studies inquiry as an arc that frames the ways in which students learn content in the four core social studies disciplines: civics, economics, geography, and history.(1) Over half of the states have adopted or adapted the C3 Framework for their own standards development, meaning there is broad public support for and commitment to the interdisciplinary connections between these four core disciplines.(2)

In the United States, NAEP is the only nationally representative examination of student knowledge of Civics, Geography, and U.S. History in grades 4, 8, and 12, and it is the largest nationally representative examination of student knowledge of Economics in grade 12. NAEP is viewed by policymakers as the most comprehensive measure of what students know and can do at critical junctures in their K-12 school experience. Regular administration of NAEP assessments across grade bands (in grades 4, 8, and 12) allows for the tracking of educational achievement trends. NAEP includes student, teacher, and school characteristics which are associated with student learning in civics, economics, geography, and history. In addition, NAEP provides information regarding teachers’ instructional decision-making. NAEP data frequently expose achievement and opportunity gaps across race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, school type, and region. Consequently, NAEP assessments strongly influence educational policy and decision-making concerning curriculum and practice at the state level.(3)  

NCSS is encouraged by the focus on new assessment frameworks for the NAEP Civics and U.S. History assessments, and a new timeline that aligns these assessments with other NAEP assessments. Even with changes to these two assessments, however, social studies is not on an equal footing overall with reading, writing, and math. While there is the potential for increased state-level influence with the introduction of state-level data for the Civics assessment in grade 8, there are no plans for state-level assessments for U.S. History in grades 4, 8, and 12, nor for Civics in grades 4 and 12. Furthermore, the postponement of these two assessments creates a 19-year gap in measuring educational programs for Civics and U.S. History in grades 4 and 12, since the last such assessment occurred in 2010.(4) Yet current trends in K-12 and higher education suggest that greater attention to assessing social studies knowledge is needed. 

In each of the NAEP frameworks for Civics, Economics, Geography, and U.S. History, the NAGB articulates a strong commitment to each discipline and acknowledges the vital role of the knowledge and skills these disciplines engender for civic life. Yet, the NAGB chose to eliminate NAEP testing in Economics and Geography. This decision reflects a historical pattern of cutting social studies exams when changes in funding occur. These decisions will have policy implications, given research which consistently affirms that testing is associated with curricular and instructional priorities.(5) Without continuous and reliable assessments, guaranteed student access to social studies and the effective preparation of students for civic life cannot be assured in America’s schools. 

NAGB’s decisions for the updated assessment schedule further marginalize social studies education and have significant ramifications for the field. Therefore, NCSS offers four recommendations in response to these decisions:

1. NCSS calls for the restoration of the Economics and Geography assessments in the NAEP schedule through adequate funding. 

Economics and geography, along with civics and U.S. history, are core social studies disciplines that prepare all students for college, career, and civic life. Knowledge of the world, international trade and personal finance, the use of technology, and current issues affecting many Americans–including immigration, the cost of living, student loan debt, health care, travel and national security, cultural understanding, human rights, and participation in a global economy–all depend on geographic and economic understanding gained through a high-quality K-12 social studies program. The elimination of these assessments means that Americans will lack critical information to make decisions that strengthen their school and district curriculum, and, most importantly, that prepare all students to become active and engaged citizens. The decision to eliminate the Economics and Geography assessments communicates that social studies does not matter in a well-rounded education. Moreover, the elimination of these subjects from the NAEP testing schedule may exacerbate inequalities in student access to economics and geography through reductions in course and graduation requirements at the state level.

2. NCSS calls for state-level data to be added to the NAEP Civics assessment in grades 4 and 12, and to the NAEP U.S. History assessment in grades 4, 8, and 12.

NAEP assessments are measures of where students are in their learning and reveal opportunity gaps that can be addressed through policy; states and districts use NAEP data to put forth policy changes because of measured differences in student achievement. Without state-level testing data, educators cannot evaluate the differences in opportunities that students have to learn in these subjects, and the progress that students make. Moreover, state and regional trends in achievement cannot be determined without state-level data. NCSS strongly encourages NAGB to consider making state-level data available. This would be especially helpful for the NAEP Civics assessments, because its questions are far more rigorous than the naturalization exam questions which are often part of the civics proficiency legislation or graduation requirements in over 30 states.(6)

3. NCSS encourages the NAGB to administer the U.S. History and Civics assessments in grades 4 and 12 earlier than in 2029.

An earlier assessment administration would provide more current data on student learning in Civics and U.S. History so that our nation, as a democratic republic, has consistent evidence about the health of our democracy among a student population ready to graduate and embark on college, career, and civic life. By the time the new testing schedule is enacted, civic empowerment gaps may have widened and greater disparities may be more prevalent among student groups.(7) Without evidence from NAEP, there will be no way to determine if K-12 education has responded to these issues. State-level policy trends of greater emphasis on citizenship education and civic preparation suggest earlier testing is needed. 

4. NCSS invites the NAGB to work with us and other professional membership associations representing K-12 classroom teachers, college and university faculty, school and district supervisors, and state specialists in the content areas to ensure the continued quality of all NAEP assessments.

The decision by the NAGB did not appear to include input from the social studies field, nor specifically from subject-area professional associations including NCSS and its affiliated network of regional, state, and local councils. NCSS strongly urges the NAGB to include social studies and NCSS input in future decision-making. Such input could include the alignment of the NAEP Civics and U.S. History assessment frameworks to other NAEP assessments that are placed on a similar administration timeline; development of further changes to NAEP testing schedules; new testing instruments; and alignment of NAEP assessments to the C3 Framework and NCSS’s own National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies.

5. NCSS encourages all educators at the state and local levels to emphasize all four core social studies disciplines in their K-12 instructional programs.

While the NAGB’s changes have eliminated NAEP assessments in two of the four disciplines, districts and states should continue to emphasize all four core disciplines to prepare all students for college, career, and civic life. Areas including individual course and graduation requirements, curriculum frameworks, assessments, and teacher professional development must collectively focus on all social studies disciplines to be effective and support student achievement, and are the responsibility of local communities. NCSS continues to support its Affiliated Councils (of regional, state, and local social studies educators) and other education organizations to ensure rigorous K-12 social studies instruction in all four core disciplines of civics, economics, geography, and history. Even when they are not tested, core disciplines including economics and geography must be a foundation of a well-rounded education; quite simply, student achievement in social studies learning depends on economics and geography instruction working together with civics and history instruction.

A well-rounded education is built on a foundation that includes the social studies throughout the K-12 curriculum–including instruction in civics, economics, geography, and history. Likewise, meaningful, standards-based assessments in these disciplines are vital to best understand and measure student preparation for college, career, and civic life. We advocate for the National Assessment Governing Board, educators, and community stakeholders nationwide to build equitable assessments of student achievement in all core social studies disciplines. Such assessments are built through adequate funding, appropriate frameworks, and relevant and timely data to inform policy and practice.

This statement was written by Tina L. Heafner, President of the National Council for the Social Studies, and Lawrence M. Paska, Executive Director of the National Council for the Social Studies. It was approved by the NCSS Board of Directors on September 4, 2019.

Supported by the following organizations
(as of October 4, 2019)

 

Arizona Council for the Social Studies

Middle States Council for the Social Studies

Center for Civic Education

Minnesota Council for the Social Studies

Colorado Council for the Social Studies

National Coalition for History

Georgia Council for the Social Studies

National Council for History Education

Gilbert M. Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education
at Texas State University

New York State Council for the Social Studies

Iowa Council for the Social Studies

Northern Nevada Council for Social Studies

Kentucky Council for the Social Studies

Oklahoma Council for the Social Studies

Maryland Council for the Social Studies

Tennessee Geographic Alliance, Inc.

Maryland Geographic Alliance

Washington State Council for the Social Studies

Michigan Council for the Social Studies

Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies

 

 


1. National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) (2013). The college, career, and civic life (C3) framework for social studies state standards: Guidance for enhancing the rigor of K-12 civics, economics, geography, and history. Silver Spring, MD: NCSS.

2. Michael Hansen, Elizabeth Mann Levesque, Jon Valant, and Diana Quintero. 2018 Brown Center Report on American Education: An inventory of state civics requirements. Retrieved August 23, 2019, from https://www.brookings.edu/research/2018-brown-center-report-on-american-education-an-inventory-of-state-civics-requirements/.

3.  For example, Florida requires all undergraduate students (on all campuses in Florida) to take a civics test to graduate. See https://catalog.ufl.edu/UGRD/academic-regulations/civics_requirement/. Despite acknowledged public concerns, the Woodrow Wilson survey received extensive media attention and will be used to justify adding a “civics requirement” to graduation lists. See https://woodrow.org/news/one-state-pass-us-citizenship-exam/. Additionally, Purdue University is working with its President’s office to determine students’ civic literacy. See https://www.jconline.com/story/news/2019/03/02/bangert-purdue-faculty-give-mitch-daniels-civics-literacy-test-he-says-campus-needs/3030003002/.

4. For an additional example, in 2014 the NAGB chose to administer only the U.S. History assessment in grade 8 because of limited funding.

5. See Heafner, T. L., VanFossen, P., & Fitchett, P. G. (2019). Predictors of students’ achievement on NAEP-Economics: A multilevel model. Journal of Social Studies Research. Available https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jssr.2019.01.003; Fitchett, P., Heafner, T. L., & Lambert, R. (2014). Social studies under siege: Examining policy and teacher-level factors associated with elementary social studies marginalization. Teachers College Record, 116, 1-34; Crocco, M. S., & Costigan, A. T. (2007). The narrowing of curriculum and pedagogy in the age of accountability: Urban educators speak out. Urban Education, 42(6), 512-535; Wills, J. S. (2007). Putting the squeeze on social studies: Managing teaching dilemmas in subject areas excluded from testing. Teachers College Record, 109(8), 1980-2046.

6. See the Joe Foss Institute, whose Civics Education Initiative focuses on getting states to require students to pass the naturalization/citizenship test and has mapped current states at https://joefossinstitute.org/about/a-crisis-in-civics-education/.

7. See Heafner, T. L., & Fitchett, P. G. (2015). An opportunity to learn US history: What NAEP data suggest regarding the opportunity gap. The High School Journal, 98(3), 226-249; Levinson, M. (2010). The Civic Empowerment Gap: Defining the Problem and Locating Solutions. In Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement, ed. Lonnie Sherrod, Judith Torney-Purta, and Constance A. Flanagan, 331-361. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.


 

National Council for the Social Studies

Press Contact
Lawrence Paska, Executive Director
lpaska@ncss.org
301-850-7451

8555 16th St, Suite 500
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-588-1800 • 800-296-7840

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