PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Test scores from a national assessment measuring middle school students’ knowledge of U.S. history and American civics showed declines from pre-pandemic levels.
Nearly 8,000 students in 8th grade took the National Assessment of Educational Progress test in 2022, the first time the history and civics tests has been administered since 2018. The results released Wednesday showed roughly 40% of students were “below basic” in history — meaning the scored below grade level — and 69% below basic in civics.
The numbers declined from 2018.
Sample civics questions were labeled easy, medium and difficult, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
An example of an “easy” question asked students to select two careers “that are primarily public service,” and offered video game designer, mayor, police officer, photographer and farmer as options.
A “hard” question asked students to name “two common sources” of tensions between nations that could lead to war. (Trade disagreements and terrorism were acceptable answers.)
R.I. Secretary of State Gregg Amore — who taught history in East Providence — said the results of the tests were “disappointing but not unexpected.”
“I think standardized test scores after the pandemic have all suffered,” he said.
Rhode Island passed a law in 2021 that requires school districts to implement a civics curriculum. It must include at least one semester of civics education for students between 8th and 12th grade, and an action-based project where the student interacts with some form of government, according to Amore.
“It’s supposed to be implemented for the graduating class of 2025 but we know we probably won’t reach that goal because it takes a little while to make sure the curriculum is set,” Amore said.
He estimates about half of the districts in the state are meeting the goal right now, while staffing shortages and the need for more professional development are causing delays.
“We want to make sure they’re abiding by the law,” Amore said. “We’ve met with every school that wants to meet with us on it and try to plan together to implement this law.”
Victor Morente, a R.I. Department of Education spokesperson, said one school in Rhode Island took part in the nationwide test: Villa Nova Middle School in Woonsocket.
“RIDE believes that there is great value and need in ensuring that students, regardless of ZIP code, receive a strong civic education and feel empowered to help shape the future of their communities, our state, our nation, and our world,” Morente said in an email. “The national decline seen in the NAEP civics assessment speaks to the great need for a well-rounded education, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students nationwide.”
Results from math and reading scores released in October also showed declines from 2019.
In the meantime, Amore said the results — especially in civics — threaten American democracy.
“It’s dangerous,” Amore said. “It does create a problem, if you don’t how your government works and you can’t access it, it’s very difficult to have an impact and that leads to different types of reactions and some of those reactions can be violent.”
Tim White (email@example.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.