Can you pass an 8th grade civics test?

Only 20 percent of students who took last year's NAEP were "proficient" in civics. See how you'd have done

Published May 4, 2011 10:30PM (EDT)

"Responsible citizens of a constitutional democracy such as the United States should have adequate knowledge of the country's principles and institutions, skills in applying this knowledge to civic life, and dispositions to protect individual rights and promote the common good."

So begins the introduction to the summary report for 2010's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which was released this morning. However, it turns out that, where civic knowledge is concerned, "the nation's report card" does not actually look very encouraging. In fact, the average score for 8th graders on the NAEP was 151 out of 300 points -- and only around 20 percent of students performed at or above the "proficient" level.

How well would you do if you took the test yourself? We've chosen 10 sample questions from the 8th-grade section of the NAEP's website -- some harder than others. Grab a pencil and get going! (Answers are below.) 

1. Which activity is an example of civil society rather than an example of government?

  1. The sanitation department picks up Town X's garbage every Monday morning.
  2. The School Board of Town X decides on its yearly budget.
  3. A builder in Town X asks the planning board to approve his plans for a housing development.
  4. The places of worship in Town X join together to provide food and shelter for the homeless. 

2. A military government in Country X is taking away the political rights of a particular group in the country. What impact would this most likely have on the United States?

  1. An increase in inflation in the United States
  2. An increase in immigration from Country X to the United States
  3. A decrease in United States import tariffs
  4. A decrease in the number of cases brought before the Supreme Court 

3. The United States and Japan disagree most about the

  1. growing power of the Japanese military
  2. openness of Japanese markets to American products
  3. need to give aid to underdeveloped countries
  4. number of Japanese who can immigrate to the United States 

4. Which of the following has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?

  1. Requiring students in public schools to recite prayers
  2. Requiring journalists to reveal the names of people who provide information for news stories
  3. Allowing citizens to sue the federal government
  4. Allowing states to require that children be vaccinated against diseases

5. Which of the following is an example of people using power without having the right to do so?

  1. The owner of a newspaper prints her own opinions in the newspaper.
  2. A governor vetoes a bill passed by the state legislature.
  3. A group of people against nuclear power march outside a nuclear power plant.
  4. A police officer arrests someone because the person looks suspicious. 

6. The process for amending the United States Constitution is described in Article V of the Constitution. According to Article V, both Congress and the states must participate in the amendment process. This requirement reflects which of the following ideas about the distribution of power in America?

  1. Separation of powers among the three branches of government
  2. Separation of church and state
  3. The importance of local government control
  4. The importance of federalism 

7. Which of the following is a true statement about the United States Constitution?

  1. It created a democratic socialist state.
  2. It established a parliamentary government like that in Great Britain.
  3. It proclaimed that the government was based upon the consent of the people.
  4. It allowed a totalitarian government to function. 

8. What is one responsibility that modern Presidents have that was not described in the Constitution?

  1. Commanding the armed forces
  2. Granting pardons
  3. Appointing Supreme Court justices
  4. Proposing an annual budget to Congress 

9. Sometimes the common good conflicts with individual rights. Which of the following is an example of this?

  1. A person is put in jail because she is guilty of a violent crime.
  2. A person must move out of his house so that a highway can be built.
  3. Schools are closed because of icy roads.
  4. A community organizes to clean up a vacant lot. 

10. Near the end of an election campaign, a poll shows that an issue that no candidate has mentioned is of great concern to voters. What is most likely to happen?

  1. The election will be postponed.
  2. Newspapers will not report the results of the poll.
  3. Candidates will start talking about the issue.
  4. Some candidates will drop out of the race.   

Answers: 1. 4 2. 2 3. 2 4. 1 5. 4. 6. 4. 7. 3 8. 4 9. 2 10. 3

By Emma Mustich

Emma Mustich is a Salon contributor. Follow her on Twitter: @emustich.

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