On key nationwide exams, most 8th graders aren’t proficient in U.S. history, civics and geography

Testing. Photo by Getty Images

The vast majority of 8th graders struggled on nationwide tests in U.S. history and civics and most teens couldn’t pinpoint major cities on a map as part of a federal geography exam.

Even worse, the troubling test results released last week show that student performance declined or remained the same compared to previous exams in those subjects, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

For decades, the NAEP, also called the “The Nation’s Report Card,” has measured how U.S. students perform in reading, math, science and other key academic subjects. The exams use a representative sample of students across the country.

The U.S history, civics and geography results were from 2018 exams for 8th graders. In U.S. history, 16,400 eighth-grade students participated; 13,400 did so in civics and 12,900, in geography, according to NAEP.

Only 25 percent of 8th graders scored at or above proficient in geography and 24 percent of 8th graders were at or above proficient in civics. There were no no significant changes in the proficiency figures between 2014 and 2018, according to NAEP.

Even worse: Only 15 percent of 8th graders were at or above proficient in U.S. history. And in that subject, there was a decline in performance compared to 2014.

The 8th grade exams are important in part because students are heading to high school and should be prepared to handle more difficult classes as they move toward graduation.

The NAEP results last week come at a time when students across the country are learning online at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Of concern is that kids trying to keep up online, at home, are likely to be behind in their studies by the time they go back to school in the fall, studies have shown.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.