NAEP 1998 Civics Report Card for the Nation
Authors: Anthony D. Lutkus, Andrew R. Weiss, Jay R. Campbell,
John Mazzeo, and Stephen Lazer
Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing.
NCES 2000-457 Ordering information
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)