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1994 NAEP Assessment in U.S. History

Vol. 1, No. 3

October 1995

(NCES 95-809) Ordering Information

In the spring of 1994 a representative sample of 22,000 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students across the nation participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) analysis of the study of U.S. history. As with past assessments, the students assessed were presented with both background questions and cognitive tasks. The background questions asked students about the types of classroom instruction they had received. The cognitive sections included stimulus materials and associated tasks designed to assess students' historical knowledge and skills.

To help teachers, policy analysts, and others understand the assessment, the Focus on NAEP series presents a context for understanding the assessment. The framework that guides the assessment was developed by the National Assessment Governing Board in 1991-92 through a national consensus process involving experts in U.S. history, teachers, business representatives, policymakers, and others who brought national, state, and classroom perspectives to the discussion. Sample questions from the 1994 assessment are also presented. The NAEP U.S. history scores are reported on a scale that ranges from 0 to 500. Results are also reported according to U.S. history achievement levels-basic, proficient, and advanced.

The NAEP U.S. History Framework

The framework for the 1994 NAEP U.S. history assessment describes historical study as an exciting enterprise that introduces students to new (and sometimes conflicting) ideas. Historical study, according to the framework, involves investigating connections among diverse people and events, and analyzing change and continuity over time. Further, history includes not just politics and diplomacy, but the full range of social and economic activities that influence the ways in which people live their lives.

Finally, the framework envisions the study of history as an active process of building understanding in addition to acquiring important factual knowledge.

With this orientation, the 1994 NAEP U.S. history assessment framework includes multiple-choice items and performance measures that require students to demonstrate historical reasoning skills such as judging evidence responsibly and critically, comprehending multiple causation, and formulating and defending generalizations about the past.

Key Features
Consistent with the framework, the NAEP assessment has the following characteristics:


The 1994 U.S. history framework identifies three dimensions for the assessment: Themes in U.S. History, Periods in U.S. History, and Ways of Knowing and Thinking About U.S. History.

Historical Themes

The four historical themes identified in the framework (shown in table 1) are designed to organize the people, events, and ideas in U.S. history. The themes establish important emphases within the periods and ensure continuity from one era to another.

Table 1.-Historical themes in the 1994 NAEP U.S. history assessment
1. Change and Continuity in American         3. Economic and Technological Changes and
Democracy: Ideas, Institutions, Practices    Their Relation to Society, Ideas, and the
and Controversies.                           Environment.
- What political, legal, philosophical, and   - How did the United States develop from a
religious traditions did Americans draw upon  rural, agricultural economy to an urban,
for their conceptions of democracy?           industrialized superpower?
- Why is the procedure allowing for           - What ideas, values, and practices
compromise, continuity, and change            contrbuted to the development of the
considered fundamental to the American        American capatilistic system?
- What core civic ideas (e.g., individual     - How has the economic system adapted to
rights) have been forces for unity?           changing conditions and changing demands?
- What are basic principles and assumptions   - How have geographic and economic and
of American constitutional government about   technological developments influenced society
the sources of political power and individual and its values?
- How has the cultural diversity shaped the   - What have been major America
nation's civic cultures, and political        advancements in science and technology?
institutions and practices?
2. The Gathering and Interactions of          4. The Changing Role of America in the
Peoples, Cultures, and Ideas.                 World.
- What racial, ethnic, religious and national - How have the geographical location
groups formed this nation?                    resources, ideals, and power of the United
                                              States influenced its role in the world?
- Why have so many immigrated to what         - How have other nations affected the United
became the United States and what have been   States?
the patterns and conditions of this
- What common and diverse cultural            - Who played significant roles in international
traditions did Americans develop?             affairs?
- What have been the changing patterns of     - What is the role of public opinion.
social organization in American society?
- What have been the roles of men and         - How has life inside the United States been
women in American society?                    affected by the nation's role in the world?

Major Periods
Because history is concerned with the experiences of people over time, it is critical to establish a basic chronological structure for tracing, reconstructing, and connecting the stories of those experiences. Eight periods structure the 1994 U.S. history assessment. NAEP presents a series of questions that define the content and interpretative emphases for each period. The questions are designed to trace the four historical themes through each of the following periods:

* Three Worlds and Their Meeting in the Americas

(Beginnings to 1607)

* Colonization, Settlement, and Communities

(1607 to 1763)

* The Revolution and the New Nation

(1763 to 1815)

* Expansion and Reform

(1801 to 1861)

* Crisis of the Union: Civil War and Reconstruction

(1850 to 1877)

* The Development of Modern America

(1865 to 1920)

* Modern America and the World Wars

(1914 to 1945)

* Contemporary America

(1945 to present)

In addition to defining the content of the assessment, the 1994 NAEP U.S. history framework describes the specific cognitive skills to be measured. As mentioned earlier, this dimension is called Ways of Knowing and Thinking About History.

Ways of Knowing and Thinking
The study of U.S. history engages students' minds with the facts and complexities that give insight into the development of the nation. Studying history requires specialized ways of knowing and thinking, habits of mind, and cognitive processes that typify historians' approaches to the past. The 1994 assessment defines the cognitive domain along two dimensions: historical knowledge and perspective, and historical analysis and interpretation.

Sample Question 1 (Grade 4)
Your teacher has asked you to teach your classmates about ONE of these famous places where an important event in American history happened:

the Alamo
Pearl Harbor
Gettysburg Roanoke

My famous place in American history is ________________

Write down three facts about the place that you have chosen that will help you teach your classmates about the place.

Fact 1

Fact 2

Fact 3

The above question is an example of:

Theme: The changing role of America in the world
Period: Cross-chronological
Skill: Historical analysis or interpretation
(19 percent correct, standard error 1.4)

Illustration 1.-Sample questions 2A and 2B refer to this grocery advertisement.

Sample Question 2 (Grade 8)
A. From the advertisement, (illustration 1) one can tell that in 1830 the United States

A. traded with both Europe and the Caribbean*
B. relied primarily on European farming and industry to meet its basic needs
C. had Prohibition laws
D. was already using steamships in the Atlantic trade

The above question is an example of

Theme: The changing role of America in the world
Period: Expansion and reform (1801 to 1861)
Skill: Historical analysis or interpretation

*Key (47 percent correct, standard error 1.3)

B. Which product in the advertisement was probably produced in the United States?

A. cloves
B. wheat flour*
C. tamarinds
D. Coffee

The above question is an example of

Theme: Economic and technological changes and their relation to society, ideas, and the environment
Period: Expansion and reform (1801 to 1861)
Skill: Historical knowledge and perspective

*Key (66 percent correct, standard error 1.3)

Sample question 3 (Grade 12)

Average Farm Size and Total Number of Farms

Year Farm Size Number of Farms

1900 150 Acres 6,250,000

1980 425 Acres 2,225,000

Summarize the changes shown in the table above.

Explain how one invention or development helped cause the changes you have described.

The question is an example of

Theme: Economic and technological changes and their relation to society, ideas, and the environment
Period: The development of modern America (1865 to1920)
Skill: Historical analysis and interpretation
(29 percent correct, standard error 1.5)

The results of the assessment will be reported in the fall of 1995 in The 1995 NAEP U.S. History Assessment: A First Look report and The U.S. History Report Card. The results in these publications will be interpreted in the context of background variables such as television watching, number of history courses taken, teacher qualifications, time spent on teaching specified skills and topics, and computer availability.


The FOCUS ON NAEP series briefly summarizes information about the ongoing development and implementation of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The series is a product of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Gary W. Phillips, Associate Commissioner for Education Assessment. This issue was written by Sheida White and Sahar Akhtar from NCES.

For more information about the content of this brochure, contact Sheida White at