Historical Literacy Statistics
Two reports, The Nation’s Report Card: U.S. History 2014 and The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2014, published in April 2015 by the National Center for Education Statistics, reveal important and troubling data about the achievement of U.S. eighth graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in History and Civics.
Only eighth graders were tested in 2014 for the U.S. History and Civics tests, although fourth and twelfth graders were also tested in previous years. The Civics and U.S. History exams for fourth and twelfth graders have been “indefinitely postponed” and replaced with a Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment. The U.S. History, Civics, and Geography assessments for eighth graders will be administered again in 2018.
- The NAEP, which is commonly known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” shows that less than one-quarter of America’s students (23 percent) in grade eight are proficient in Civics.
- Only 2 percent of eighth graders were advanced, 51 percent basic, and 26 percent below basic, as a comparison. White, wealthy students are four to six times as likely as Hispanic or Black students from low-income households to equal or exceed the proficient level.
- Only 18 percent of eighth graders were at or above proficient in an understanding of U.S. History. In comparison, 1 percent were advanced, 53 percent basic, and 29 percent below basic.
- Only 31 percent answered “the government should be a democracy” when asked to choose a common belief among the people of the United States.
- Only 27 percent of eighth graders could identify how African Americans contributed to and effected the outcome of the Civil War.
- The Civics assessment included questions to the students to gauge classroom practices. Only 5 percent of eighth graders reported being asked to write a letter to give an opinion or to work to solve a community problem as part of their education in Civics.
A 2014 study of 1,416 adults by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania reported a startling lack of knowledge about American government:
- While little more than a third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, just as many (35 percent) could not name a single one.
- Just over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know that it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.
- One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration.
The more education people have, the more likely they are to vote in presidential and congressional elections. In the 2000 presidential election, 70 percent of the U.S. voting-age citizen population (eighteen years of age and older) was registered to vote and 59 percent voted. In the 2012 presidential election, only 54.9 percent of eligible voters voted. (National Center for Education Statistics).
- Learn more about the Nation’s Report Card assessments on the National Center for Education Statistics website.
- Read a summary, as well as the complete results, of the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s 2014 survey of adults on the Annenberg website.
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