Press Releases | Civic Literacy

ACTA Reacts to Dramatic Drops in National Civics and History Scores

May 4, 2023 by ACTA

The American College of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has issued the following statement on the release of the latest history and civics test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are troubling and point to large and longstanding issues in American education that policymakers must address:

These tests, as their optimistic name implies, are designed to measure how much more and better our students are learning today than in years past. The results, however, clearly demonstrate how little progress has been made.

In 1994, 39% of 8th graders failed to achieve “basic” competency in history; today that number is 40%. In 1998, only 21% of students had a “proficient” rating in civics; today only 20% do. This is not progress, but stagnation. 

The NAEP history test has questions that assess student competence in various themes from U.S. history, including democracy, culture, technology, and America’s role in the world. The test shows students declining in every category. In a time when polarization is up, social trust is down, and political tumult is increasing, it is imperative that young people are educated adequately to engage constructively in American democracy. We desperately need citizens who are more knowledgeable about our nation’s history and institutions, but we are failing these students and creating another generation that cannot distinguish between Justice Kagan and Judge Judy. Our students deserve better, and our country needs better.  ACTA has long held that colleges and universities must do much more to educate the next generation of American citizens. Results such as these show how difficult this job really is.

We need a national reawakening in history and civics education. Some universities are already leading the way, including the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University and the planned School of Civic Life and Leadership at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

Projects such as these can go a long way in making up the deficits for students who attend such flagship campuses, but for the many millions of Americans who do not attend college, much more must be done at the primary and secondary levels to improve this sorry state of affairs.

ACTA has a 27-year legacy of promoting civics and history education at American institutions of higher education. And its curricular tool, What Will They Learn?, provides a unique resource that grades colleges and universities on their core requirements in seven areas of knowledge, including civics and American history.

Colleges and universities must honor their obligations to reverse this dysfunction, so dangerous to democracy. It falls to higher education to train schoolteachers who will be competent to help our children understand the institutions of a free society and the history of the nation. We must demand no less of them.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gabrielle Anglin
PHONE: (202) 798-5425


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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