Fourth-Graders Improve History, Civics Scores; Seniors Make Significant Gains Nationally (Washington Post, 5/17/07, p. A9, Jay Matthews) reports that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) chronicled a rise from 69% in 1998 to 73% in 2006 in the percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above basic level; high school seniors’ civic scores remained flat. [History scores also rose from 64-70% over this period for fourth graders and rose for high school seniors.]
The 2006 Civics Report is available here.
“Experts said the rise in fourth-grade scores might be linked to strenuous efforts…to improve the teaching of reading in kindergarten through third grade. ‘Higher scores in fourth-grade history and civics go along with the recently reported higher reading scores,’ said Karin Chenoweth, a writer for the District-based Achievement Alliance and author of the book It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools. In the last NAEP reading report, fewer students — particularly African American and Latino students — scored below the basic level in the reading test, which means that more students are able to read and learn about history and civics. This could very well explain the higher history and civic scores at fourth grade, which are most pronounced among African American and Latino students.”
The civics test measures: Civic Knowledge, Intellectual Skills and Civic Dispositions.
Civic Knowledge tests concepts like the foundations of the American political system, the relationship of the U.S. to other countries, the rights and roles of citizens.
Intellectual Skills measures skills of mind and analysis to enable citizens to put knowledge to civic effect through identifying/describing, explaining/analyzing, and evaluating/taking positions/defending positions.
Civic Dispositions tests the traits of public and private character necessary to preserve an effective democracy, such as: participating in informed, thoughtful and effective manner in civic affairs, respecting individual worth and human dignity, or promoting the healthy functioning of American constitutional democracy.
Sample question booklets here.
“Scientists Draw Link Between Morality And Brain’s Wiring” (WSJ, 5/10/07, Science Journal, Robert Lee Hotz) Describes a recent experiment of neuroscientists at Harvard, Caltech and the University of Southern California that uncovered why most of us have an intuitive sense of right or wrong, i.e., because there is a neural wiring that produces moral judgment. If certain brain cells were knocked out with an aneurysm or a tumor, the ability to think clearly about some issues of right and wrong was permanently skewed. These subject had injured an area, located in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex several inches behind the brow, that links emotion to cognition. “When that influence [the role played by unconscious empathy and emotion] is missing,” said USC neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, “pure reason is set free.” See also, Moral Judgement Fails Without Feelings (USC, May 2007).