“The scores from the Nation’s Report Card on Civics and Government are truly disappointing,” she said. “The scores reveal a very disturbing lack of basic knowledge of our system of government and how and why citizens must be engaged. The report is a clarion call for action to restore the civic mission of our nation’s schools. We can and must do better in providing civic education to all of our nation’s school students.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, suggested the results might have to do with the fact that civics education wasn’t emphasized in the No Child Left Behind Act, which holds schools accountable for student achievement in reading and math.

“An informed, active citizenry and an educated workforce are essential pillars of a healthy democracy,” Weingarten said. “It is a disservice to students to narrow our focus to only what is tested—reading and mathematics—and to give scant attention to civics. We are encouraged by the fourth-grade gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But overall, the progress is not nearly far enough or fast enough.”

Skills tested on the NAEP civics exam included recognizing a role performed by the U.S. Supreme Court, identifying a right protected by the First Amendment, naming two actions that citizens can take to encourage Congress to pass a law, and analyzing the message in a political cartoon.

The full data from the 2010 Civics NAEP are available at http://nationsreportcard.gov/.