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Mark Schneider
Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics

National Assessment of Educational Progress
The Nation's Report Card: Civics 2006; The Nation's Report Card: U.S. History 2006

May 16, 2007

Commissioner Mark Schneider's Powerpoint Presentation MS PowerPoint (1,926 KB)

Good morning. I am here today to share with you the results from two reports on the academic performance of America's students-The Nation's Report Card: Civics 2006 and The Nation's Report Card: U.S. History 2006. The U.S. history assessment was our first since 2001 and the civics assessment was the first since 1998.

The U.S. history assessment measures how well students know the specific facts of American history, how well they evaluate historical evidence, and how well they understand change and continuity over time.

The civics assessment measures how well American students are being prepared for citizenship.

Both assessments were administered in early 2006. Results are available for the nation at grades 4, 8, and 12. There are no state-by-state results for either assessment. In both assessments, student performance is presented in two ways-average scale scores and achievement levels.

The NAEP achievement levels-Basic, Proficient, and Advanced-are set by the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. NAEP scale scores tell us what students know and can do, while the NAEP achievement levels provide standards for what students should know and be able to do.

U.S. History
The NAEP U.S. history results are based on a national sample for the fourth grade of over 6,000 students, and samples for the more complex assessments at the two higher grades of more than 11,000 students each. Both public and private school students participated in the assessment.

Results for private school students are included within the overall results released today. Not enough private schools participated, however, to produce reliable results for private schools in every grade. Some private school results are available in the appendix of the report as well as on the NAEP website,

Student performance in 2006 is compared with results from the 1994 and 2001 assessments.

Scores for all three grades are placed on a single 0-500 point scale. We also measure student performance on the four themes of the U.S. history assessment -Democracy, Culture, Technological and Economic Change, and World Role. All NAEP scores are based on samples. For this reason, there is a margin of error associated with every score. When comparing scores and other NAEP results, we only cite differences that are larger than the margin of error-those that are statistically significant. And in the figures in the NAEP reports, an asterisk on a score from a previous assessment indicates the difference from 2006 is statistically significant.

Average Scale Scores
In U.S. history there were higher scores in 2006 for all three grades, compared with both earlier assessments. And, in contrast to most NAEP assessments in other subject areas, there was an increase at grade 12.

Note that in 1994 the U.S. history assessment did not allow accommodations for special needs students-students with disabilities and English language learners. In 2001, we conducted the assessment with two different samples at each grade, one with accommodations and one without. Thus, the trend charts in the 2006 U.S. History Report Card show two scores for 2001. In 2006, there was a single sample, in which accommodations were permitted for special needs students who required them to participate. In comparing 2001 to 2006, the accommodated sample is the basis for comparison.

Scale Score Percentiles
Analyzing student performance by percentile allows us to see where performance is improving. At grade 4, scores improved from 1994 to 2006 for lower-performing students-those at the 10th, 25th, and 50th percentiles.

Scores for fourth-graders at the 10th percentile rose about 18 points from 1994 to 2006.

For grades 8 and 12, scores improved for students at all five performance levels. That is, performance improved for higher-performing as well as lower-performing students in these grades.

Achievement-Level Results
Examining results by achievement level, the percentage of students who scored at or above Basic-that is, all those who scored at Basic, Proficient, or Advanced-increased for all three grades in 2006. For example, the percentage of fourth-graders who scored at or above Basic rose from 64 percent in 1994 to 70 percent in 2006.

The percentages of students who performed at or above Proficient, on the other hand, rose for grades 8 and 12 only. For example, at grade 8, the percentage at or above Proficient increased from 14 to 17 percent. At grade 12, the percentage rose from 11 to 13 percent.

The percentage of students who performed at the Advanced level was small for all three grades, no more than 2 percent.

Results by Race/Ethnicity
White, Black, and Hispanic students had higher scores at all three grades.

For Asian and Pacific Islander students, scores increased at grade 12 only.

There were no changes for Native American and Alaska Native students.

Score Gaps by Race/Ethnicity
At grade 4, gaps narrowed between both White and Black students and White and Hispanic students. Gaps did not change for the other two grades.

Scale Scores by Theme of U.S. History
In two of the four U.S. history themes-Democracy and World Role-scores were higher in 2006 than in either 1994 or 2001 for all three grades.

For Technology and Culture, there were more mixed results-some increases and no declines.

Examples of What Students Know about U.S. History
Some examples of questions selected from the U.S. history themes illustrate the range of material covered by the assessment and how students performed on these questions. A much fuller range of questions, with scoring rubrics and data on student performance, is available through the NAEP Question Tool at

  • Democracy
    • 46 percent of fourth-graders identified Lincoln's position on slavery from a well-known quotation
    • 78 percent of eighth-graders correctly interpreted a portion of the Gettysburg Address
    • 67 percent of twelfth-graders knew that an important idea that helped shape the "Great Society" programs of President Lyndon Johnson was the belief that the federal government should play an active role in promoting social welfare.

  • Culture
    • 65% of fourth-graders understood that southwestern Indians chose building sites in cliffs that afforded natural barriers against enemies and the elements of nature
    • 49% of eighth-graders gave three reasons why people settled on the Western frontier
    • 36% of twelfth-graders identified an immigration pattern and explained its causes.

  • Technological/Economic Change
    • 35% of fourth-graders explained how two inventions changed life in the U.S.
    • Almost two-thirds of eighth-graders knew that the cotton gin led to an increase in cotton production rather than leading to other possible effects on agriculture
    • 9% of twelfth-graders used information from a table to suggest and defend a thesis about lifestyle changes between 1900 and 1928.

  • World Role
    • 40% of fourth-graders identified the 1960s and 1970s as the time frame of the Vietnam War rather than other wars
    • 33% of eighth-graders knew that the Monroe Doctrine, the Good Neighbor Policy, and the Alliance for Progress were all U.S. policies relating to Latin America
    • 14% of twelfth-graders identified a significant factor in U.S. involvement in the Korean War and explained its significance.

The 2006 Civics results are based on a national sample of about 7,000 fourth-graders and over 9,000 in the eighth- and twelfth-grade samples. As with U.S. history, both public and private students participated. While not enough private schools participated in every grade to produce reliable results in civics, some results are available on the NAEP website.

Civics results for 2006 are compared with those for the previous assessment in 1998.

In civics, average scores are reported on separate 0-300 scales for each grade. Achievement-level results are also reported.

The Content of the Civics Assessment
The civics assessment included five content areas, covering civic life in general, the specifics of the American political system, the importance of the Constitution, the relationships between the U.S. and other nations, and the roles of citizens in American democracy. In contrast to U.S. history, there are no separate results for these content areas, as the assessment framework was not designed to produce them.

Average Scale Scores
Scale score results show an increase since 1998 for grade 4, but not for grade 8 or grade 12.

Scale Score Percentiles
Lower-performing students in grade 4-those at the 10th and 25th percentiles-improved their performance over their peers in 1998. There were no changes among higher-performing students.

Achievement-Level Results
Achievement-level results show improvement only at the fourth grade. The percentage of fourth-graders at or above Basic rose from 69 percent in 1998 to 73 percent in 2006.

There were no changes in achievement-level results at grades 8 and 12.

Results by Race/Ethnicity
There were increases in average scores for White, Black, and Hispanic students at grade 4. At grade 8, there were increases for White and Hispanic students.

Score Gaps by Race/Ethnicity
Comparison of score gaps over time shows a narrowing of the grade 4 score gap between White and Hispanic students. The grade 4 score gap for White and Black students did not change significantly. For grades 8 and 12, neither gap changed significantly.

Examples of What Students Know about Civics
Some examples of questions selected from the civics assessment at each grade illustrate the range of material covered by the assessment and how students performed on these questions. A much fuller range of questions, with scoring rubrics and data on student performance, is available through the NAEP Question Tool at

  • Fourth-Graders
    • 75% knew that while non-citizens are able to do such things as drive a car, own a business, or write a letter to a newspaper, only citizens can vote in a presidential election.
    • 41% identified that countries rather than lower levels of government sign peace treaties
    • 14% selected indigent defendants' right to a court-appointed lawyer as guaranteed by the judicial system.

  • What Do Eighth-Graders
    • 80% identified a notice for jury duty
    • 63% understood that it is an abuse of power for a policeman to arrest someone merely because he "looks suspicious."
    • 15% interpreted a phrase from the Gettysburg Address

  • Twelfth-Graders
    • 72% recognized that a passage written by Massachusetts Educator Horace Mann implied that the poor can achieve wealth through study and learning. "Education," said Mann, "develops new treasures, treasures not before possessed or dreamed of by anyone."
    • 50% identified which prevails when state and national laws conflict
    • 43% described the meaning of a statement about federalism in the U.S.

At grade 4 there were improved overall scores for both the U.S. history and the civics assessments, with the improvement occurring among lower-performing students. This pattern is consistent with the trend in reading at grade 4 from 1998 to 2005.

At grades 8 and 12, scores improved for U.S. history only.

More Information
The 2006 U.S. History and Civics Report Cards provide all of this information and much more. In addition, these reports and interactive data charts are available at Information on the background of NAEP, sample questions, and an online data tool that allows one to make additional comparisons are available at

Commissioner Mark Schneider's Powerpoint Presentation:
The Nation's Report Card: NAEP 2006 U.S. History and Civics Assessment MS PowerPoint (1,926 KB)