NAEP 1998 Civics Report Card for the Nation

November 1999

Authors: Anthony D. Lutkus, Andrew R. Weiss, Jay R. Campbell, John Mazzeo, and Stephen Lazer

PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. 2,056K


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Photograph of a young boy raising his hand in 
classThe National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the nation's only ongoing survey of what students know and can do in various academic subject areas. Authorized by Congress and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education, NAEP regularly reports to the public on the educational progress of students in grades 4, 8, and 12. In 1998 NAEP conducted a national assessment of civics knowledge of students in each of these grades.

This report presents the results of the NAEP 1998 civics assessment for the nation. The results are based on assessing a sample of students at each grade that is statistically representative of the entire nation. In total, 5,948 fourth graders, 8,212 eighth graders, and 7,763 twelfth graders were assessed. For this subject assessment, in contrast to the other major subject reports presented this year in reading and writing, there were no additional state-level results. Students' performance on the national assessment is described in terms of their average civics score on a 0 to 300 scale and in terms of the percentage of students attaining each of three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced.

The achievement levels are performance standards adopted by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) as part of its statutory responsibilities. The achievement levels are collective judgments by broadly representative panels of classroom teachers, education specialists, and members of the general public.

As provided by law, the Acting Commissioner of Education Statistics, upon review of a congressionally mandated evaluation of NAEP, has determined that the achievement levels are to be considered developmental. However, both the Acting Commissioner and NAGB believe these performance standards are useful for understanding student achievement. They have been widely used by national and state officials, including the National Education Goals Panel, as a common yardstick of academic performance.

In addition to providing average scores and achievement level performance for the nation, this report also provides results for subgroups of students defined by various background and contextual characteristics. Further, the report explores relationships between selected teacher and classroom activities and student performance. A summary of the major findings from the NAEP 1998 civics assessment is presented on the following pages.


Civics Scale Score and Achievement Level Results

Overall results

  • Average scale scores for the nation were set at 150 on a scale of 0 to 300 for all grades assessed (4, 8, and 12). This average can be used as a common reference point within grades and for comparisons among population subgroups.

  • At grades 4, 8, and 12, the percentages of students performing at or above the Basic level of civics achievement were 69, 70, and 65 percent respectively; the percentages performing at or above the Proficient level were 23, 22, and 26 percent respectively. Two percent of the students at grades 4 and 8, and 4 percent at grade 12 performed at the highest achievement level, Advanced.

Results for student subgroups

Gender

  • Female students had higher average scale scores than male students at grades 8 and 12, but not at grade 4. At grades 8 and 12, the percentages of students at or above the Basic level were higher among females than among males. At grade 12, however, the percentage of students at the Advanced level was higher among males than females.

Race/Ethnicity

  • At grade 4, White students had higher average scale scores than their Asian/Pacific Islander peers, who in turn had higher average scale scores than their Black, Hispanic, and American Indian counterparts. At this grade, Hispanic students scored at lower average levels than members of other ethnic groups. At grades 8 and 12, White students had higher average scale scores than Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students. At grade 8, Black and Asian/Pacific Islander students scored at higher levels than their Hispanic counterparts. At grade 12, Asian/Pacific Islander students performed at a higher level than their Black, Hispanic, and American Indian peers.

  • At all three grades, the percentages of White students at or above the Proficient achievement level were higher than those of Black students, Hispanic students, and American Indian students. A higher percentage of White students than Black or Hispanic students reached the Advanced level at grade 12. At grade 8, a higher percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students than Black, Hispanic, or American Indian students were at or above the Proficient level. A higher percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students also reached the Proficient level at grade 4 than did their Black and Hispanic counterparts.

Parents' level of education

  • Consistent with findings of past NAEP assessments, higher levels of parental education were associated with higher levels of student performance, especially at the upper grades. For example, as high school seniors reported higher levels of parental education, their average scores increased.

  • A larger percentage of grade 4 students who reported that their parents graduated from college than students who indicated their parents did not graduate from high school were at or above the Proficient achievement level. At grade 8, higher percentages of students whose parents were reported to have graduated from college were at the Advanced level, or at or above the Proficient level, than were students from the other parental education groups. The percentage of grade 8 students at the Basic level was highest among students whose parents graduated from college and lowest among students whose parents did not graduate from high school. At grade 12, groups with higher parental education levels had higher percentages of students at or above each of the achievement levels.

Region of the country

  • Students in the Northeast and Central regions had higher average scale scores than those in the Southeast and West at grades 4 and 8. In addition, at grade 4, students in the Southeast outperformed those in the West. At grade 12, students in the Central region outperformed their peers elsewhere, while seniors in the Northeast had higher average scores than those in the Southeast.

  • At grade 4, the percentage of students at the Advanced level was higher in the Central region than in the West. At all three grades, higher percentages of students in the Northeast and Central regions were at or above the Proficient level than in the Southeast. At grades 4 and 8, the Northeast and Central regions had higher percentages of students at or above Basic than did the Southeast and the West. At grade 12, the percentage of students at or above Basic was higher in the Central region than in the Southeast and West.

Type of location

  • At grades 4 and 8, students from schools in urban fringe/large town and rural/small town locations had higher average scale scores than their peers in central city schools. At grade 8, students from schools in urban fringe/large town locations outperformed their peers from schools in rural/small town locations.

  • At grade 8, the percentages of students at or above the Basic and Proficient levels were higher among students from urban fringe/large town locations than among students from central city or rural/small town locations. At grade 4, the percentage of students at or above the Proficient level was higher among urban fringe/large town locations than among the other two groups. Both urban fringe/large town and rural/small town locations had higher percentages of students at the Basic level than did central city locations.

Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch Program

  • At all three grades, students who were eligible for the federally funded Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch Program had lower average civics scale scores than students who were not eligible.

Type of school

  • At all three grade levels, students attending nonpublic schools had higher average scale scores than their counterparts attending public schools. The percentages at or above each of the achievement levels were also higher among students attending nonpublic schools than among students attending public schools.

Contexts for learning civics: Teacher characteristics

  • The majority of students at both grades 4 and 8 were taught civics by teachers at the Bachelor's degree level (teachers in the twelfth grade did not receive a questionnaire). Forty-three percent of fourth graders and 46 percent of eighth graders were taught by teachers who had Master's or higher degrees. The fourth-grade students taught by Master's-level teachers had higher scores than fourth-grade students taught by teachers with Bachelor's degrees.

  • For both fourth- and eighth-grade student samples, the teacher's undergraduate major in college was not related to student performance on the civics assessment.

  • Fourth-grade students whose teachers had either advanced professional or regular teaching certification produced higher civics scores than students whose teachers had certification in the "temporary/provisional" category.

  • Students at both fourth and eighth grades generally had social studies teachers with three or more years' experience. Only 11 percent of students at grade 4 and 10 percent at grade 8 had teachers with two years or less of experience. In the fourth grade only, students with teachers from the least-experienced category were outscored in the civics assessment by students whose social studies teachers had three or more years of experience.

  • Students at both fourth and eighth grades had teachers who rated themselves as well prepared in social studies instruction, classroom climate/governance, classroom management, and the use of computers. However, teachers in both grades generally rated themselves as much less well prepared in using the voluntary national standards for civics/government or in using computer software for social studies instruction.

  • Over half of the teachers in both grades felt that they received "most" of the resources they need, while only one percent felt that they received "none" of the resources they need.

  • Across all three grades, 36 to 41 percent of students were in schools answering "yes" to whether computers were available to bring to classrooms when needed. In both grades 8 and 12, students whose schools answered "yes" to this question outscored students whose schools answered "no."

  • However, 67 percent of fourth graders and 63 percent of eighth graders were in classes where the teacher indicated "never or hardly ever" using computer software in class. In one fourth-grade category, students whose teachers indicated using computer software once or twice a month, had higher average scale scores than students in the "never or hardly ever" category.

  • Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of fourth graders were in classes where teachers indicated never or hardly ever using the Internet for social studies. Internet usage appeared more common in the eighth grade, where only 55 percent of students were in classes that never or hardly ever used it, while 35 percent used it once or twice a month. In both the fourth and eighth grades, students using the Internet once or twice a month achieved higher average scale scores than students who never used the Internet.

Contexts for learning civics:
Classroom and student variables

  • Over 70 percent of students at both grades 4 and 8 indicated that they had studied the U.S. Constitution and Congress in the current school year.

  • Generally, less than half the fourth- and eighth-grade students indicated that they had studied other countries' governments or international organizations such as the United Nations (UN).

  • For both grades 4 and 8, the highest percentages of students were taught on a weekly basis with "traditional" instructional activities: using the social studies textbook; using quantitative data, charts or graphs; completing worksheets; hearing a teacher's lecture; and using books, newspapers or magazines.

  • Instructional activities that were used on a weekly basis with low percentages of students included: use of computer software; writing a report of three or more pages; participating in debates or mock trials; and, writing letters on civic topics.

  • Only 35 percent of students in the fourth grade and 34 percent in the eighth grade received group activities or projects on at least a weekly basis. However, in both grades, small-group activities were employed more commonly (53 percent in fourth grade and 52 percent in eighth grade) on a once-or-twice-a-month basis -- and the assessment results in grade 8 indicated that students in this frequency category outscored students who "never or hardly ever" participated in small-group activities.

  • Teachers indicated how frequently they employed each of a wide range of classroom instructional activities with their social studies students. For all instructional activity categories at grade 4, the groups of students taught by teachers with three or more years of experience had higher civics scores than students taught by teachers with two years or less experience. This pattern of advantage for students of experienced teachers over students of less-experienced teachers by instructional activity did not appear, however, in grade 8.

  • Among fourth graders, 58 percent of students were taught by teachers who had attended professional development activities in the past year. At grade 8, the comparable figure was 65 percent. At grade 4, students of teachers who attended workshops were taught less frequently using worksheets and more often using group activities and the "active" instructional techniques of debates, mock trials, and letter writing. Similarly, teachers at grade 8 who attended workshops were less likely to use textbooks and more likely to use extended reports, debates, and mock trials.

  • At every grade there is a positive association between frequency of discussion of schoolwork at home and average civics scale scores. At least two-thirds of students across the three grades reported discussing schoolwork at home at least once a week.

  • More than half of grade 12 students indicated they did some volunteer work in their communities. Those who volunteered had higher civics scores than those who never volunteered.

  • Almost two-thirds of the twelfth-grade students indicated at least some hours worked each week at a job for pay. About a fifth (21 percent) of the students reported working 21 or more hours per week. Students who worked between 6 and 15 hours per week had the highest scores on the assessment.

PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. 2,056K

NCES 2000-457 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Education. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. National Center for Education Statistics. The NAEP 1998 Civics Report Card for the Nation, NCES 2000-457, by A.D. Lutkus, A.R. Weiss, J.R. Campbell, J. Mazzeo, & S. Lazer. Washington, DC: 1999.

Last updated 14 March 2001 (RH)

Go to Top of Page