High school seniors scored lower on a national civics test in 2010 than they did in 2006, according to a new assessment by the National Center for Education Statistics, a government organization.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a nationwide series of tests designed to gauge how the country's students are faring in a variety of subjects. In 2010, high school seniors scored an average of 148 out of a possible score of 300 on the test, a three-point drop from 2006, but not significantly different from a 150 average score in 1998. An "advanced" score is considered 204 or better.
Civic knowledge, as defined by the report, includes understanding the foundations of the American political system, the role of the constitution in government, basic U.S. international affairs, and the role of citizens in American democracy.
If a 12th grader could interpret a political cartoon, they would be considered to have a "basic" understanding of civics. If they could define the term "melting pot" and argue whether or not the term applies to the U.S., they would have a "proficient" understanding, and if they could compare the citizenship requirements of the U.S. to those of other countries, they would have an "advanced" understanding of civics.
Just 24 percent of seniors scored at or above "proficient," compared to 27 percent in 2006. Just 4 percent of seniors were considered "advanced." More than one third (36 percent) did not have a "basic" understanding of civics.
Scores among fourth graders increased between 2006 and 2010, while eighth graders' scores remained essentially the same.
Although scores among high school seniors declined, the performance gap between whites and Hispanics narrowed: The average score for a Hispanic student was 137, compared to 156 for a white student. In 2006, the gap between white and Hispanic students was 24 points; in 2010, it was 19 points.
Almost all students (97 percent) reported studying civics at some point in high school, but just 67 percent of 12th graders reported studying about the U.S. Constitution in 2010.
For sample questions, answers, and topics discussed, check out the full report.