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Sequestration Forces Cuts to National Social Studies Tests

Fewer students will take national tests in civics, history, and geography, thanks to across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.

The executive committee of the National Assessment Governing Board, on the recommendation of the National Center for Education Statistics—which administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP—voted recently to indefinitely postpone the 4th and 12th grade tests in the three subjects for 2014. The exams will continue for 8th graders.

The move will help NAEP save $6.8 million, the amount of money it lost thanks to the cuts, which hit nearly every federal agency, including the U.S. Department of Education, back in March. The cuts are slated to stay in place for the next ten years unless Brokedown Congress and the administration are able to come up with a compromise on long-term spending.

But in the meantime, almost every agency in the federal government must make cuts. In NAEP's case, the sequestration cuts hit late in the fiscal year. That meant that the board, which sets policy for NAEP, didn't have many areas to choose from, since spending for activities like data collection had already gone out the door.

"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."

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