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A month ago, on June 14th, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the Nation's Report Card: U.S. History 2010, Grades 4, 8, and 12. The Report Card is the "largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do" in U.S. history, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Approximately 7,000 4th-grade students, 11,000 8th-grade students, and 12,000 12th-grade students in public and private schools across the country took the test, resulting in data that will be analyzed for years to come.
Several professional and educational organizations and publications released responses to the Report Card:
- The History News Network rounded up the reactions of five history professionals, a summary of Report Card findings, and links to news articles and op-ed pieces from across the web;
- The National Coalition for History put together another summary of Report Card findings;
- Education Week published a journalistic overview and summary of Report Card findings, with quotes drawn from official remarks released with the Report Card; and
- the National Council for the Social Studies focused on concerns about the infrequency of the assessments and small sample sizes.
But what is the Report Card? What does it mean? The first step in interpreting the results is to understand the tools used for collecting them. Looking at the structure of the NAEP U.S. history assessments and at the stated goals behind developing and administering them may be a useful way to understand what exactly the results are before trying to understand what they say.
A good place to start is the U.S History Framework for the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress. This document explains the goals of the assessments, describes the structure and rationale behind them, and provides sample questions.
After reviewing this document, head over to NAEP to try your hand at answering sample questions yourself. How did you do? If you want to see more questions from the 2010 (and 2006) assessments, NAEP's item maps let you pull up further sample questions. (Note: When you arrive at the site, set the subject to "U.S. History" in the drop-down menus under "Select new item map," and choose the year and grade level you want to explore.) Questions are labeled with the knowledge or skill they were designed to address and their format (multiple choice or constructed response), related theme (U.S. democracy, the gathering of cultures in the U.S., economic and technological changes, and U.S. world role), and difficulty level.
Once you've gotten a handle on the tools NAEP used to collect data for the Nation's Report Card, read over the Report. It includes charts and graphs with short summaries of conclusions drawn from the data.
(For comparison, you may want to read Commissioner Mark Schneider's remarks on the 2006 findings, as well as the official 2006 release remarks of other experts. Follow the link and scroll down to "2007," "History and Civics.")
Understanding the rationale behind the Nation's Report Card, the tools used to collect data, and official interpretations, you can now investigate the numbers yourself. Using the NAEP Data Explorer, compare test data using filters including jurisdiction (public or private), gender, race and ethnicity, geographic region, eligibility for the National School Lunch Program, disability status, and more.
For a look at data on how the tested students were being taught prior to their assessment, try Classroom Context, a section of the official Nation's Report Card website. Here you can compare what percent of classrooms used primary sources or films, or how many classrooms used computers for certain tasks. The data can't capture actual teaching strategies, but it can provide some general ideas about how history is being presented in the classroom.