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The Nation's Report Card: U.S. History 2001

May 2002

Authors: Michael S. Lapp, Wendy S. Grigg, and Brenda S.-H. Tay-Lim

Executive Summary

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the nation's only ongoing representative sample survey of student achievement in core subject areas. In 2001, NAEP conducted a national U.S. history assessment of fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students.

Authorized by Congress and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 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. This report presents the results of the NAEP 2001 U.S. history assessment for the nation. Results in 2001 are compared to results in 1994, the next most recent year in which NAEP conducted a U.S. history assessment and the only other assessment year in which the test questions were based on the current framework. Students' performance on the assessment is described in terms of average scores on a 0-500 scale and in terms of the percentage of students attaining 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. They are collective judgments of what students should know and be able to do.

As provided by law, the Deputy Commissioner of Education Statistics, upon review of a congressionally mandated evaluation of NAEP, has determined that the achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted and used with caution. However, both the Deputy Commissioner and NAGB believe these performance standards are useful for understanding trends in student achievement. They have been widely used by national and state officials as a common yardstick of academic performance.

In addition to providing average scores and achievement-level performance in U.S. history for the nation's fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders, this report provides results for subgroups of students at those grade levels defined by various background and contextual characteristics.

A summary of major findings from the NAEP 2001 U.S. history assessment is presented on the following pages. In interpreting NAEP results, it should be noted that every test score has a standard error -- a range of a few points plus or minus the score -- that includes components of sampling error and measurement error. Statistical tests that factor in these standard errors are used to determine whether the differences between average scores are significant. Only statistically significant differences are cited in this report. Readers are also cautioned against making causal inferences based on NAEP results. Differences in performance between subgroups of students, for example, reflect a variety of socioeconomic and educational factors.

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Major Findings at Grades 4, 8, and 12

  • Average U.S. history scores for fourth- and eighth-graders were higher in 2001 than in 1994, while the performance of twelfth-graders remained relatively stable.

  • Score increases were evident among the lower-performing students at grade 4 (at the 10th and 25th percentiles) and for both lower- and higher-performing students at grade 8 (25th, 75th, and 90th percentiles).

  • Results of the 2001 U.S. history assessment show 18 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders, and 11 percent of twelfth-graders performing at or above the Proficient level -- identified by NAGB as the level at which all students should perform.

  • At grade 4, the percentage of students performing at or above Basic in 2001 was higher than in 1994. At grade 8, the percentages of students performing at or above Basic, at or above Proficient, and at Advanced increased between 1994 and 2001. At grade 12, however, the percentages performing at or above each level remained the same as in 1994.

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Results for Student Subgroups

In addition to overall results, NAEP reports on the performance of various subgroups of students. Observed differences between student subgroups in NAEP U.S. history performance reflect a range of socioeconomic and educational factors not addressed in this report or by NAEP.


  • Any apparent differences in the average scores of male and female students in 2001 were not statistically significant at any of the three grades.

  • At grade 4, both male and female students had higher average scores in 2001 than in 1994. At grade 8, the average score of males increased between 1994 and 2001, while the performance of females remained stable.


  • In 2001, the average scores of White students were higher than those of Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students at all three grades. Asian/Pacific Islander students scored higher than Black and Hispanic students across the grades as well.

  • At grade 4, both White students and Black students had higher average scores in 2001 than in 1994. At grade 8, only White students showed a gain since 1994. At grade 12, only Hispanic students had higher average scores in 2001 than in 1994.

  • The 2001 results show a narrowing of the score point difference between White students and Black students at grade 4, and between White students and Hispanic students at grade 12.

Region of the Country

  • Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the Northeast, Southeast, and Central regions all had higher average scores than students in the West. Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the Central region outperformed their peers in the Southeast. There was no statistically significant difference in the performance of twelfth-graders from various regions of the country.

  • At grade 4, only the Northeast region showed a gain in the U.S. history average score since 1994. At grade 8, the only increase occurred in the Southeast region.

Parents' Highest Level of Education

  • The 2001 results show a clear positive relationship overall between parental education level and the performance of eighth- and twelfth-graders.

  • At grade 8, the average score of students whose parents graduated from college was higher in 2001 than in 1994. At grade 12, there was an increase in the average score of students whose parents did not finish high school.

Type of School

  • The 2001 results show that public school students at all three grades had lower average U.S. history scores than their peers attending nonpublic schools.

  • Average scores among both fourth- and eighth-grade public school students were higher in 2001 than in 1994.

Type of Location

  • At grades 4 and 8, students attending schools in rural and urban fringe locations had higher average scores than students in central city schools. At grade 12, students attending schools in urban fringe locations had higher scores than students in both rural and central city locations.

Eligibility for Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch Program

  • At every grade, the average score of students who were eligible for the Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch program was lower than the average score of students who were not eligible for the program (i.e., those not meeting the poverty guidelines).

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Becoming a More Inclusive NAEP

In the 2001 U.S. history assessment, the NAEP program used a split-sample design, so that trends in students' history achievement could be reported across assessment years and, at the same time, the program could continue to examine the effects of including special-needs students assessed with accommodations. While most of the results in this report include only the performance of students assessed without accommodations, the report also presents an overview of a second set of results that include the performance of special-needs students who required and were provided accommodations during the assessment administration.

  • At grade 8, the average score when accommodations were permitted was lower than the average score when accommodations were not permitted. However, there were no statistically significant differences between average scores in the accommodations-permitted results and the accommodations-not-permitted results at grades 4 and 12.

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Classroom Contexts for Learning

NAEP collects information about the contexts for student learning by administering questionnaires to assessed students, their teachers, and their school administrators. Using the student as the unit of analysis, NAEP examines the relationship between selected contextual variables drawn from these questionnaires and students' average scores on the U.S. history assessment.

Time Spent on Social Studies

  • In 2001, fourth-graders whose teachers reported spending more than 180 minutes on social studies instruction in a typical week had higher average scores than those whose teachers reported spending less time.

State and Local Standards

  • About two-thirds of the fourth- and eighth-graders assessed had teachers who reported that they used state or local standards to a large extent in planning social studies instruction. There were no statistically significant differences in students' performance at either grade 4 or grade 8 based on the extent to which teachers reported using such standards in planning instruction.

Instructional Activities

  • A large majority of fourth-graders had teachers who reported having them read material from a textbook on a daily or weekly basis. Reading from a textbook daily was associated with higher average scores than was doing so on a weekly or monthly basis.

  • Eighth-graders whose teachers reported using primary historical documents such as letters, diaries, or essays written by historical figures, on a weekly basis had higher average scores than those whose teachers did so less frequently.

  • Twelfth-graders who reported never reading extra material, such as biographies or historical stories, scored lower, on average, than those who reported doing so a few times a year or more often.

Use of Technology

  • A strong positive association was evident between using computers for conducting research and for writing reports and performance at grades 8 and 12.

  • Students in grades 4, 8, and 12 who reported daily general use of computers at school for social studies or history had lower average scores than those who reported less frequent general use. It should be noted that relatively few students reported using a computer for history or social studies.
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NCES 2002-483 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Education. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. National Center for Education Statistics. The Nation's Report Card: U.S. History 2001, NCES 2002-483, by M.S. Lapp, W.S. Grigg, & B.S.-H. Tay-Lim. Washington, DC: 2002.

Last updated 06 May 2002 (PO'R/LLW)

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