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U.S. History and Civics a No-Go Next Year for Nation's Report Card

U.S. 8th graders won't take part in national assessments of U.S. history or civics in 2021, the supervisory group for the Nation's Report Card said Monday.

The board delayed until August voting on whether to likewise delay or cancel Congressionally required NAEP tests of 4th- and 8th-grade students' reading and math skills. The National Center for Education Sciences, which conducts the assessments, estimates they will cost an additional $45 million to safely administer during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Given everything ... social studies and civics and history (assessment) is just not a reasonable thing to do," said Mark Schneider, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences, in an emergency meeting of the National Assessment Governing Board on Monday. "I mean, it's not that expensive, so it's not the money issue. It is taking all the machinery and putting it in schools for nonmandatory assessments," he said, thus increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus virus through people and equipment being moved from school to school, sometimes multiple times. "I think the question of doing that in 2021 is totally off the table." 

NAGB member Patrick Kelly agreed: "And I'm a history/civics teacher, so I don't say that lightly!" Kelly teaches AP government and politics at Blythewood High School outside of Columbia, S.C.

Peggy Carr, NCES' associate commissioner, noted that a handful of states traditionally have not participated in non-mandated NAEP subjects, even before the coronavirus pandemic, and she said because of that, NCES could be unlikely to have a large enough national sample of test-takers to report on in those subjects.

Putting off the 2021 NAEP administration would leave a gap at a time of both political upheaval and widespread concern about young Americans' civic understanding and engagement. The next regular administration of the history and civics tests is not until 2025, but Stephaan Harris, spokesman for the board, said it would be rescheduled "as soon as it was feasible."

Results from NAEP's 2018 tests, released last month, highlighted 8th graders' middling civics performance and a sharp decline in their understanding of history and geography since 2014. In history, those losses were large enough to cancel out half the gains made in that subject on the NAEP since 1994. More than a third of students did not have basic proficiency in history, and a quarter did not reach the basic level in civics. A few years ago, the board had balanced plans to eliminate future assessments in economics and geography with more frequent testing in history and civics.

Board member Tyler Cramer also suggested likewise skipping the next administration of reading and math rather than pushing it back a year, picking up again at the next scheduled Main NAEP in 2023. 

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