Skip Navigation
small NCES header image

The NAEP Civics Achievement Level Details

Grade 4
Grade 8
Grade 12

Specific definitions of the Basic, Proficient, and Advanced achievement levels for grades 4, 8, and 12 are presented in the tables that follow. The achievement levels are cumulative. Therefore, students performing at the Proficient level also display the competencies associated with the Basic level, and students at the Advanced level also demonstrate the skills and knowledge associated with both the Basic and the Proficient levels. For each achievement level listed, the scale score that corresponds to the beginning of that level is shown in parentheses.

Grade 4

Basic
(136)

Fourth-grade students performing at the Basic level should have an understanding of what government is and what it does, and they should be able to identify some things that government is not allowed to do. These students should have some understanding of the foundations of the American political system. In the context of their school and community, they should understand rules and laws, rights and responsibilities, and ways to participate in governing. These students should know that the world is divided into many countries.

Fourth-grade students performing at the Basic level should have some understanding of what government is and what it does, and they should be able to identify some things that government is not allowed to do. They should be able to explain purposes of rules in the school and the community, and to describe what happens when people break laws. These students should understand how national holidays and symbols such as the flag, the Statue of Liberty, and the Fourth of July reflect shared American values, and they should be able to identify different types of diversity in American society. They should be able to describe ways to settle disagreements or conflicts peacefully. They should be able to name the president and their state governor and to identify rights and responsibilities of a citizen. They should know some ways that students can participate in governing their school and community, and they should be able to describe qualities of a good leader. Finally, these students should know that the world is divided into many countries.

Proficient
(177)

Fourth-grade students performing at the Proficient level should have a good understanding of what the American government does and of why it is not allowed to act in certain ways. These students should have an age-appropriate understanding of the foundations of the American political system. They should understand purposes of laws, ways shared beliefs unify Americans, what it means to be a citizen, and rights and responsibilities of citizens, and the idea of public participation in governing. These students should be able to describe ways in which countries interact with one another.

Fourth-grade students performing at the Proficient level should have a good understanding of what the American government does and of why it is not allowed to act in certain ways. They should be able to explain why we have laws. These students should be able to recognize diversity in American society and that Americans are united by shared beliefs and principles. They should know that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are founding documents of American democracy. They should be able to explain how people make decisions about the ways they live together in a democracy and how groups in schools and communities can manage conflict peacefully. They should know what it means to be a citizen of their state and the nation, and they should be able to distinguish between rights and responsibilities of citizens. They should understand why it is important for people to participate in governing their school and community. Finally, these students should be able to describe ways in which countries interact with one another.

Advanced
(215)

Fourth-grade students performing at the Advanced level should understand and be able to explain some purposes of government. When given age-appropriate examples, they should recognize differences between power and authority and between limited and unlimited government. They should be able to explain the importance of shared values in American democracy, to identify ways citizens can participate in governing, and to understand that with rights come responsibilities. They should be able to explain how nations benefit when they resolve conflicts peacefully.

Fourth-grade students performing at the Advanced level should understand and be able to explain some purposes of government. They should recognize differences between power and authority when given examples and should understand differences between limited and unlimited government. These students should be able to explain why it is important that citizens share a commitment to the values of American democracy, and they should be aware of the benefits and challenges of both unity and diversity in American society. They should be able to distinguish between services provided by local and state levels of government. These students should be able to describe how government can make it possible for people to accomplish goals they could not achieve alone. They should be able to identify ways in which citizens can keep track of their government's actions, and they should understand the connection between rights and responsibilities of a citizen. Finally, they should be able to explain how nations benefit when they resolve conflicts peacefully.


Grade 8

Basic
(134)

Eighth-grade students performing at the Basic level should have some understanding of competing ideas about purposes of government, and they should be able to describe advantages of limited government. They should be able to define government, constitution, the rule of law, and politics. They should be able to identify the fundamental principles of American democracy and the documents from which they originate, and they should understand the importance of a shared commitment to the core values of American democracy. They should recognize the components of the political process and understand personal, political, and economic rights and responsibilities. They should be able to describe the purposes of some international organizations.

Eighth-grade students performing at the Basic level should have some understanding of competing ideas about purposes of government, and they should be able to describe advantages of limited government. They should be able to define what is meant by government, constitution, the rule of law, and politics. These students should be able to identify fundamental principles and values of American democracy, such as federalism, the separation of powers, checks and balances, government by the consent of the governed, and individual rights. They should understand that the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution including the Bill of Rights and other Amendments are sources of these ideas. These students should be able to explain why it is important that citizens share the values and principles expressed in the nation's core documents, and they should understand functions of elections, political parties, and interest groups in a democratic society. They should know that American citizenship is attained by birth or through naturalization. They should be able to identify personal, political, and economic rights of Americans and should understand the responsibilities that these rights imply. Finally, these students should be able to describe purposes of international organizations to which the United States belongs.

Proficient
(178)

Eighth-grade students performing at the Proficient level should understand and be able to explain purposes that government should serve. These students should have a good understanding of differences between government and civil society and of the importance of the rule of law. They should recognize discrepancies between American ideals and reality and be able to describe continuing efforts to address them. They should understand the separation and sharing of powers among branches of government and between federal and state governments, and they should be able to explain how citizens influence government. They should be able to describe events within the United States and other countries that have international consequences.

Eighth-grade students performing at the Proficient level should have a good understanding of purposes that government should serve, and they should be able to explain why government should serve those purposes. These students should understand differences between government and civil society, and they should be able to explain the importance of the rule of law. They should be able to point out ways in which ideals expressed in the nation's core documents differ from reality and to identify ways in which these differences continue to be addressed. They should be able to explain how and why legislative, executive, and judicial powers are separate, shared, and limited in the American constitutional government, and they should understand how and why powers are divided and shared between the national and state governments. They should be able to discuss ways that citizens can use the political process to influence government. These students should be able to provide simple interpretations of non-text based information, like maps, charts, tables, graphs, and cartoons. Finally, these students should be able to describe events in the United States that have influenced other nations, as well as events in other nations that have affected American policy.

Advanced
(213)

Eighth-grade students performing at the Advanced level should have a developed understanding of how civil society helps to maintain limited government and why the rule of law is important. These students should have a clear understanding of issues in which democratic values are in conflict and of past efforts to address the discrepancies between American ideals and reality. They should understand how citizens can monitor and influence government and how responsible citizens support democracy. They should recognize the impact of American democracy on other countries, as well as other countries' impact on American politics and society.

Eighth-grade students performing at the Advanced level should have a developed understanding of why civil society plays a key role in maintaining a limited government and of the importance of the rule of law in civil society and government. These students should be able to take positions on issues in which fundamental values are in conflict--liberty and equality, individual rights and the common good, and majority rule and minority rights, for example, and they should be able to defend their positions. They should be able to evaluate results of past efforts to address discrepancies between American ideals and national reality and to explain how citizens can monitor and influence local, state, and national government. These students should understand how laws can achieve purposes of American constitutional government, such as promoting the common good and protecting rights of individuals. They should understand how civic dispositions such as civility, tolerance, and respect for law promote the healthy functioning of American constitutional democracy. Finally, these students should understand the impact of American democracy on other countries, as well as the impact of other countries on American politics and society.


Grade 12

Basic
(139)

Twelfth-grade students performing at the Basic level should have an understanding of what is meant by civil society, constitutional government, and politics. They should know that constitutional governments can take different forms, and they should understand the fundamental principles of American constitutional government and politics, including functions of political parties and other organizations. They should understand both rights and responsibilities in a democratic society, and they should recognize the value of political participation. They should be familiar with international issues that affect the United States.

Twelfth-grade students performing at the Basic level should have an understanding of what is meant by civil society, constitutional government, and politics. They should know that constitutional governments can take different forms, and they should understand the fundamental principles of American constitutional government. These students should be able to explain ways that political parties, interest groups, and the media contribute to elections, and they should be able to point out sources of information about public policy issues. They should understand that both power and rights must be limited in a free society. They should be able to identify those traits that make people responsible citizens, and they should be able to describe forms of political participation available in a democracy and recognize reasons that such participation is important. These students should be able to provide simple interpretations of non-text-based information, like maps, charts, tables, graphs, and cartoons. Finally, they should be familiar with international issues that affect the United States.

Proficient
(174)

Twelfth-grade students performing at the Proficient level should have a good understanding of how constitutions can limit the power of government and support the rule of law. They should be able to describe similarities and differences among constitutional systems of government, and they should be able to explain fundamental American democratic values, their applications, and their contribution to expanding political participation. They should understand the structure of American government and be able to evaluate activities of political parties, interest groups, and media in public affairs. They should be able to explain the importance of political participation, public service, and political leadership. They should be able to describe major elements of American foreign policy and the performance of major international organizations.

Twelfth-grade students performing at the Proficient level should have a good understanding of how constitutions can limit the power of government and support the rule of law. They should be able to distinguish between parliamentary systems of government and those based on separate and shared powers, and they should be able to describe the structure and functions of American government. These students should be able to identify issues in which fundamental democratic values and principles are in conflict--liberty and equality, individual rights and the common good, and majority rule and minority rights, for example, and they should be able to take and defend positions on these issues. They should be able to evaluate ways that law protects individual rights and promotes the common good in American society. They should understand how the application of fundamental principles of American constitutional democracy has expanded participation in public life, and they should be able to explain how citizens can work individually and collectively to monitor and influence public policy. These students should understand the importance and means of participation in political life at the national, state, and local levels. They should be able to evaluate contributions made by political parties, interest groups, and the media to the development of public policy, and they should be able to explain how public service and political leadership contribute to American democracy. They should understand how American foreign policy is made and carried out, and they should be able to evaluate the performance of major international organizations. Finally, these students should be able to discuss reasons for and consequences of conflicts that arise when international disputes cannot be resolved peacefully.

Advanced
(204)

Twelfth-grade students performing at the Advanced level should have a thorough and mature understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of various forms of constitutional democracy. They should be able to explain fully the structure of American government and the political process. They should understand differences between American ideals and realities, and they should be able to explain past and present responses to those differences. They should understand why civic dispositions and individual and collective political actions sustain democracy. They should be able to explain objectives and consequences of American foreign policy.

Twelfth-grade students performing at the Advanced level should have a thorough and mature understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of various forms of constitutional democracy. They should be able to discuss advantages and disadvantages of confederal, federal, and unitary systems of government, as well as strengths and weaknesses of parliamentary systems of government when compared with those based on separate and shared powers. These students should be able to explain how the structure of American government and the nation's social and political cultures serve one another. They should know which level and agency of government to contact to express their opinions or influence public policy. They should be able to explain and evaluate past and present individual and collective political actions aimed at narrowing the gap between American ideals and national reality. They should understand how elections help determine public policies, and they should be able to evaluate public policy issues in which fundamental values and principles are in conflict--liberty and equality, individual rights and the common good, and majority rule and minority rights, for example. These students should be able to evaluate the validity and emotional appeal of past and present political communication. They should be able to explain how civic dispositions such as civility, tolerance, and respect for law are important for preserving democracy, and they should be able to evaluate the many forms of participation in public affairs. Finally, they should be able to explain how American foreign policy is made and carried out and to evaluate its consequences.



Last updated 05 August 2004 (MM)

Would you like to help us improve our products and website by taking a short survey?

YES, I would like to take the survey

or

No Thanks

The survey consists of a few short questions and takes less than one minute to complete.
National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education