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2010 NAEP U.S. History Report

Eighth-Graders Make Progress in U.S. History Since 2006, But Percent Proficient Remains

Low on Nation's Report Card

Most Subgroups and Low Performers Show Greatest Improvement Since 1994

Washington, D.C. — Eighth-graders earned the highest NAEP U.S. history scores to date. Still, only 17 percent scored at or above the Proficient level. In fact, on the seemingly easy question shown here [below, right], only 32 percent of all eighth-grade students who took the assessment provided a complete response. Among students who scored at the Proficient level, however, 72 percent answered the question correctly.

Performance on the U.S. History 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at Grades 4, 8, and 12 has shown some overall improvement since 1994. However, the only progress since 2006 was at grade eight, with significant improvement of Black and Hispanic eighth grade scores over these years. Performance by fourth and twelfth-graders remained unchanged compared to 2006.


Why History Matters

The Governing Board hosted a virtual panel of experts to discuss how studying the past prepares students for the future. 


The NAEP scores of lower-performing fourth-graders have increased since 1994, according to the U.S. History 2010 assessment. The report, released today, showed some of the greatest gains by fourth-graders since 1994 were among the historically lowest-performing groups. In the fourth-grade, there was a 22-point increase from 1994 to 2010 in the scores for students ranking in the bottom 10th percentile of performance. In the eighth-grade, students whose scores ranked in the 10th, 25th and 50th percentiles were higher than in 2006. Meanwhile, performance of twelfth-graders was only 2 points higher than in 1994, and there was no significant change in scores from 2006 in any of the five percentiles or racial/ethnic groups. In 2010, over half (55 percent) of high school seniors performed below the Basic achievement level.

"We are encouraged by the progress of our fourth and eighth-graders, particularly by the gains being made by students who traditionally have been among the lowest performers," said David P. Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP. "We need to bring even more of these students up to the Proficient level, and we want to see more progress overall by our twelfth-graders, who will soon be active citizens."

Broken down by racial and ethnic groups, Blacks and Hispanics in the fourth grade made larger gains (22 points and 23 points, respectively) from 1994 to 2010 than their White counterparts. And in the eighth grade, the increases posted by Black and Hispanic students since 2006 helped them narrow the gaps with their White peers.

Compared to 1994, average scores in 2010 for males were higher at all three grade levels, and scores for female students increased at grades 4 and 8. Males outperformed females in 2010 in grades 8 and 12. Although there was no significant difference in scores between males and females at grade 4 in 2010, the scores of male students were higher than in 2006.

NAEP results are reported as average scores on a 0 to 500 scale and as percentages of students scoring at or above three achievement levels: Basic, denoting partial mastery of the knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work; Proficient, representing solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter; and Advanced, representing superior performance. The scores can be compared to those from 1994, 2001 and 2006 to show how students' knowledge and skills have progressed.


View additional analysis of the NAEP twelfth grade U.S. history results in context of the NAEP High School Transcript Study findings.


The history assessment, a mix of multiple choice and constructed-response questions, was administered by the National Center for Education Statistics to nationally representative samples of public and private school students, including 7,000 fourth-graders, 11,800 eighth-graders and 12,400 twelfth-graders.



Questions were designed to measure students' knowledge and analytical skills in U.S. history in the context of four historical themes: democracy, including basic principles and core values developed from the American Revolution through the present; culture, focusing on how different racial, ethnic and religious groups interacted and the traditions that resulted; technology, focusing on the transformation of America's economy from rural frontier to industrial superpower and its impact on society, ideas and the environment; and world role, the movement of America from isolationism to worldwide responsibility.

At grade 4, students who scored at or above the Basic level (73 percent) were likely to be able to interpret a map about the Colonial economy; students scoring at or above Proficient (20 percent) were likely to be able to understand that canals increased trade among states; students scoring at Advanced (2 percent) were likely to be able to explain how machines and factories changed work.

At grade 8, the 69 percent of students scoring at or above Basic were likely to be able to identify a result of Native American-European interaction; the 17 percent at or above Proficient were likely to be able to identify a domestic impact of war; the 1 percent at Advanced were likely to be able to explain two differences between plantations and small farms in the antebellum South.

At grade 12, the 45 percent of students scoring at or above Basic were likely to be able to understand the context of a women's movement document. The 12 percent who scored at or above Proficient were likely to be able to understand Missouri statehood in the context of sectionalism; and the 1 percent who scored at Advanced were likely to be able to evaluate Civil War arguments.

The Nation's Report Card: U.S. History 2010, Grades 4, 8, and 12 is available at


Stephaan Harris