How to Turn Around NAEP History & Civics Scores

Last fall, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released a full report on math and reading scores for students across the country, revealing declining NAEP scores across the board as a result of pandemic-related learning disruptions.

NAEP latest assessment results from exams taken in 2022 unveil yet another decline in student scores – this time in U.S. history and civics.

While this drop wasn’t exactly unexpected following last fall’s NAEP scores report, the data shows the lowest U.S. history scores ever recorded and the first-ever decline in civics scores since the assessment’s inception. This underscores not only the pervasive challenges facing educators, districts, and the education system at large, but more specifically, the intrinsic link between reading comprehension and social studies.

“I’m not surprised by these results after the drop in reading scores we saw in the fall,” said Charley Erwin, a former history teacher, middle school principal, and current engage2learn (e2L) Certified Data-Informed Growth Coach. “The U.S. history and civics assessments are becoming less about memorizing and regurgitating facts and more about reading comprehension and engaging with primary and secondary sources.”

RELATED: Curing NAEP Math Score Woes (Free Webinar Recording)

While these reports may feel disheartening, they also present educators, leaders, and instructional coaches with a world of possibilities for sustainable, long-term, and creative solutions. Here are a few.

01: Design relevant, authentic, and applicable lessons.

Educators are accustomed to hearing students ask, “Why are we learning this?” 

Fair question!

This is where competency-based coaching and support comes into play. Among the e2L Best Practices curated from extensive research on the instructional methods that have the most impact on student learning and achievement is Relevance & Authenticity, a professional learning competency that enables educators to:

  • Center the student in the learning experience.
  • Promote critical thinking and a deeper understanding of the content.
  • Empower students to connect classroom learning to real-life situations.
  • Propel student motivation, engagement, and assessment scores. 

“If we’re being honest, a lot of students, especially younger ones, see history as a bunch of dusty old guys. That’s why it’s important to focus on relevance and why history matters to who we are now. Making those connections helps students appreciate and learn the content,” explained Charley. “Similarly, the standard social studies class experience is lecturing and storytelling, which is important, but it can’t be the only way students get information. Increasing student discourse and academic discussions around the various topics is foundational to a strong history and civics classroom.”

Check out this blog post for more tips and resources for designing relevant and authentic lessons.

02: Maintain a focus on improving literacy skills, especially reading comprehension.

Consistency in literacy development is critical, as those skills influence virtually everything in a person’s life, from success in the classroom across all subjects during childhood to employment, income, and quality of life into adulthood.

Unfortunately, we know that the unpredictability over the past three years has had a profound impact on literacy skills, particularly for those students in early grades. With the data from the NAEP reading scores in the fall, districts everywhere have and should continue to double down on accelerating student literacy skills.

“Understanding that reading comprehension component is really important for turning these scores around,” noted Charley. “If a school wants to focus on one thing that will impact everything, it’s literacy. When we start to see an increase in literacy outcomes, we can anticipate that improved history and civics scores will follow.”

Foreseeing the impact of the pandemic on reading and language arts and, by extension, all other subject areas, leaders and educators in Houston, Texas, decided to take matters into their own hands. Read their story here.

03: Provide individualized instructional coaching for ALL, including history & civics teachers.

Instructional coaching is often only relegated to support first-year teachers or teachers who find themselves struggling. However, we’re of the mind that everyone deserves a coach, regardless of subject area or experience level.

Public school educators are feeling the brunt of the political infight happening across our country. Considering the particularly fraught and confusing time that educators find themselves in – especially in history and social studies classrooms, where legislation in some states now limits what and how educators are able to teach – many educators are understandably reacting from a place of fear.

“When people operate out of fear, we’re not going to see good results,” said Charley. “From a systems perspective, we need to make sure that social studies and history teachers are getting the individualized coaching support they need, too. As we move to a more respectful, equitable way of providing instructional coaching and support, educators will feel more confident taking risks, trying new things, and creating relevant learning experiences.” 

Thanks to extensive research, evidence-based instructional coaching is shown to be the most effective talent development and professional learning tool for educators. More on this here.

Improving NAEP Scores Begins by Treating Teachers as Talent

We know that the most powerful lever in a students’ education is the educator. We also know that the most powerful lever in an educator’s success is the kind of support they receive on a systemic level. The key to turning around NAEP history and civics scores, therefore, is treating teachers as the talent that they are.

As a proud talent development partner for hundreds of public schools across the country, we see the impact of targeted educator support on student achievement every single day – with the data to prove it. Learn more and explore partnership options for your school or district here.

RELATED: Data-Informed Growth (DIG) Coaching Collaborative