<< The Body Politic

Civics Loses Out Again

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

220px-TheNationsReportCardIn our 2010 survey of high school social studies teachers, respondents reported that civics was getting squeezed out because of pressure to show progress on statewide math and language arts tests. While civics is still a required subject in many states, its absence from the education-reform agenda has led many to forget that preparing students for citizenship is one of the central purposes of schooling.

Among the forgetful, it seems, is the governing board of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a.k.a. “the nation’s report card”), which recently voted to indefinitely postpone the 4th and 12th grade tests in history, civics, and geography for 2014. With this vote, the board is following in the wake of many states which have also dropped social studies tests in response to budget cuts. Education Week reports:

“I don’t think it was any particular lack of interest in social studies,” on the part of the executive committee, said Jack Buckley, the NCES commissioner. Instead, he said the panel was “trying to make the best decision from a bad set of options.” The executive committee kicked around other options, such as making cuts in the area of reporting and electronic dissemination, but decided none of those ideas would save enough money to be worthwhile.

The NAEP tests are voluntary, but nearly every state participates, Mr. Buckley said.

Advocates for social studies education, who had actually been hoping NAGB would expand the social studies NAEP test, are none too happy about the move. They say it will make it harder to gauge whether students are making progress in social studies, an area that some say has been overlooked in favor of reading, math, and even science.

“It’s awful,” said Susan Griffin, the executive director of the National Council for the Social Studies. “It’s sending exactly the message that we’ve been complaining [about] for over a decade, … that these subjects aren’t important.”

In this case, no news is definitely not good news. The last NAEP assessment in civics revealed that only one-quarter of high school seniors demonstrated at least a “proficient” level of civics knowledge.