- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders are showing improved knowledge of U.S. history, national test results show, but only fourth-graders improved in civics and students across the board still struggle to reach higher achievement levels in both subjects.

Officials issued a mixed report card on results of the 2006 national civics and history tests — part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that is given to a sampling of public and private school students nationwide.

Results, released yesterday, are “both encouraging and discouraging,” said David Gordon, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board.

All three grades improved their average history scores from 2001, the last time the test was administered. In civics, low-performing fourth-graders improved their scores the most since 1998, the last time that test was given, while scores for the two higher grades stayed essentially the same.

Little or no increase was seen in either subject in the percentage of students reaching proficient level or higher.

Officials and researchers praised the history gains but lamented the civics results. Mr. Gordon said he is concerned that civics knowledge seems to weaken as students get closer to becoming adult participants in society.

“The results released today are encouraging, but it must be noted that while these scores are headed in the right direction, they still remain alarmingly low,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Some critics of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act have said the education law forces schools to focus on math and reading scores at the cost of subjects such as social studies. But Education Secretary Margaret Spellings yesterday said the focus on reading is the reason for the gains in civics and history.

“[T]he fact is, when students know how to read and comprehend, they apply these skills to other subjects like history and civics,” she said. “The result is greater academic gains.”

The tests were administered to nationally representative samples of students — 25,000 for civics, 29,000 for history — in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades.

In history, the average score improved three points in each grade. Seventy percent of fourth-graders reached the basic level or better in history, an improvement from 66 percent in 2001. The percentage of eighth-graders reaching basic or better in history increased from 62 percent to 65 percent. The percentage of 12th-graders reaching basic or better also increased, but is still only 47 percent.

No significant improvement was found from 2001 in the percentage of students reaching the proficient level or better in history.

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, introduced a bill that would provide $14 million for 10 states to test students in American history and civics under NAEP and deliver comparable state-by-state results.

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