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Civics and citizenship education:
state of the nation                                                                   by Suzanne Mellor
                                                             Australian Council for Educational Research
                                                        Project Manager, MCEETYA National Assessment
                                                                  Program: Civics and Citizenship, 2004

This article outlines    Introduction
                         In April 1999, the state, territory
                                                                     They identified eight areas of schooling
                                                                     for attention, among them civics and
developments in          and Commonwealth Ministers of               citizenship education.
the implementation       Education meeting in the tenth                  This article outlines developments
                                                                     in the implementation and assessment
                         Ministerial Council on Education,
and assessment of        Employment, Training and Youth              of the achievement of these goals
the achievement of       Affairs (MCEETYA), agreed to the            nationwide. National and state/
                                                                     territory developments, the key
                         new National Goals for Schooling
the National Goals       in the Twenty-first Century (the            features of civics and citizenship
for Schooling in the     Adelaide Declaration). Two of these         education, and the results of a national
                                                                     program to assess the achievement of
                         goals reference civics and citizenship
Twenty-first Century     learning outcomes.                          these goals are discussed.
relating to civics           Adelaide Declaration Goal 1.3
                         states that students should:                National developments in civics and
and citizenship                                                      citizenship education
                            have the capacity to exercise
education. National         judgement and responsibility in
                                                                     Since 2002 and the completion of
                                                                     the Commonwealth’s Discovering
and state/territory         matters of morality, ethics and social
                                                                     Democracy program, the profile
                            justice, and the capacity to make
developments,               sense of their world, to think about
                                                                     of civics and citizenship education
                                                                     has been significantly enhanced by
the key features of         how things got to be the way they
                                                                     a number of developments at the
                            are, to make rational and informed
civics and citizenship      decisions about their lives and to
                                                                     national and state/territory levels.
                                                                     These include the:
education, and the          accept responsibility for their own
                                                                     • formation of civics and citizenship
results of a national       actions.
                                                                       curriculum outcome statements in
                            Adelaide Declaration Goal 1.4
program to assess        specifies that when students leave
                                                                       each educational jurisdiction
                                                                     • commencement of the National
the achievement          school they should be:
                                                                       Assessment Program in Civics and
of these goals are          active and informed citizens with an       Citizenship at Years 6 and 10, to be
discussed.                  understanding and appreciation of
                            Australia’s system of government and
                                                                       implemented in a three-year cycle
                                                                     • publication of the Civics and
                            civic life.                                Citizenship Assessment Domain
                             When the Ministers endorsed the           and associated Key Performance
                         National Goals for Schooling they             Measures and Domain Descriptors
                         also set in train the work of measuring     • development of National
                         and reporting on student achievement          Statements of Learning for Civics
                         and progress in attaining the Goals.          and Citizenship.
 COMPAK 2007 • Issue 1 • February

  National Civics and Citizenship            skills, understandings and capacities        development in relation to civics and
  Assessment Domain                          that students in Australia should have       citizenship education (available in
  In 2003 the MCEETYA Civics and             the opportunity to learn and develop         PDF form at <
  Citizenship Assessment Domain was          in the Civics and Citizenship national       au/studentlearning/teachingresources/
  released. This was developed as part       domain. Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 have             civicscitizenship/support>.
  of a national plan to assess and report    been designated as the junctures at
  on student achievement against the         which opportunities to develop civics        What is the difference between civics
  National Goals for Schooling in the        and citizenship knowledge, skills,           and citizenship learning outcomes?
  Twenty-first Century.                      understanding and capacities exist           Civics and citizenship are two
      The national Civics and Citizenship    in the curriculum in the respective          distinct cognitive areas. The two Key
  Assessment Domain has a Year 6 and         jurisdictions. For each level of             Performance Measures used in the
  Year 10 component, each consisting of      schooling, the statements are grouped        National Assessment Program—KPM1
  three levels:                              by ‘aspects’—namely ‘Government and          (Civics) and KPM2 (Citizenship)—
                                             Law’, ‘Citizenship in a Democracy’,          correspond to the two dimensions in
  1 two Key Performance Measures
                                             and ‘Historical Perspectives’.               the Civics and Citizenship domain
    (the KPMs)
                                                 The statements are not a                 of the Victorian Essential Learning
  2 Domain Descriptors                       curriculum in itself, but rather a           Standards (VELS): ‘Civic knowledge
  3 Professional Elaboration.                series of statements about essential         and understanding’ and ‘Community
                                             opportunities to learn in this particular    engagement’.
  The two KPMs are:
                                             domain, which state education                    In short, civics relates to civic
  • KPM 1: Civics—Knowledge and              jurisdictions have agreed to implement       knowledge and citizenship is
    Understanding of Civic Institutions      in their own curriculum documents,           dispositional (attitudes, values,
    and Processes                            as these come due for review. As             dispositions and skills). Interpretation
  • KPM 2: Citizenship—Dispositions          such, these documents are primarily          lies at the heart of civics and
    and Skills for Participation.            intended for curriculum developers.          citizenship education, and programs
                                                 Further information about the            must allow for students to develop and
      Domain Descriptors were written        Statements of Learning can be found          practise this competency.
  for both KPMs for Years 6 and 10.          at <>.            Civics is the more defined of the
  (The Year 10 descriptors for both          Click on ➝ For Teachers ➝ Statements         two. It can be defined as the study
  KPMs are listed on the next page).         of Learning for Civics and Citizenship.      of Australian democracy, its history,
      The Professional Elaboration
                                                                                          traditions, structures and processes;
  expands on the Domain Descriptors of       Key features of civics and                   our democratic culture; the ways
  the Assessment Domain. It elaborates       citizenship education                        Australian society is managed, by
  on and contextualises the knowledge,       A key feature of civics and citizenship      whom and to what end. Even this
  understandings, dispositions and           education is its interconnectedness.         simple definition indicates there are
  skills that students will be required to   Evaluations of effective civics and          contested areas to be encountered in
  demonstrate in the assessment.             citizenship education programs               the teaching and learning of civics.
      The Civics and Citizenship             indicate that a whole-school approach            On the other hand, citizenship is
  Assessment Domain is available             produces the best learning outcomes.         the development of the skills, attitudes,
  at <             See Discovering Democracy in                 beliefs and values that will predispose
  resources/ccap_assessment_domain_          Action: Implementing the Program             students to participate, to become
  2004.pdf>. Additional information          (Department of Education and                 and remain engaged and involved in
  about the National Assessment              Training, Victoria, 2004) for advice         that society/culture/democracy. These
  Program can be found on the Civics         on whole-school practice and policy          constitute a rich and complex set of
  and Citizenship Education website
  Click on ➝ For Teachers ➝ National
                                                                              About the author
                                                                              Suzanne Mellor, Senior Research Fellow, joined
  National Statements of Learning for                                         ACER in 1990 and has worked on national and
                                                                              international policy and survey research projects.
  Civics and Citizenship
                                                                              Project management for ACER of civics and citizenship
  The Statements of Learning for                                              projects has included the 1998 report What’s the Point?
  civics and citizenship education                                            Political Attitudes of Victorian Year 11 Students. She
  were developed by MCEETYA                                                   managed the Australian component of the IEA Civics
  and published in 2006. They are                                             Education Study 1995–2002, and prepared the national
  the result of collaborative work by                                         report. In 2000–03 she conducted the evaluation of
  Australian education jurisdictions                                          the Victorian Discovering Democracy Professional
                                                                              Development Program. In 2003–06 she managed the
  to achieve greater consistency in
                                                                              inaugural National Sample Assessment in Civics and
  curriculum across Australia. The                                            Citizenship of Year 6 and 10 students in 600 schools in
  statements set out the knowledge,                                           Australia.
                                                                                                                  f e a t u r e           

                                                                                             Key findings
 MCEETYA PMRT CiviCs And CiTizEnshiP AssEssMEnT doMAin FoR                                   Student proficiency in civic knowledge and
 YEAR 10: doMAin dEsCRiPToRs FoR EACh KPM                                                    citizenship skills
                                                                                             The report provides and analyses
 The Year 10 Civics and Citizenship KPMs assume the Year 6 KPMs have already been
                                                                                             the results of the 2004 nationwide
 achieved by students.
                                                                                             assessment of civics and citizenship
 KPM 1: Civics—Knowledge and Understanding of Civic Institutions and Processes               knowledge of Year 6 and Year 10
                                                                                             students and maps the achievement
 Within secondary schooling this KPM expects that students can:                              levels demonstrated by students and
 10.1    Recognise that perspectives on Australian democratic ideas and civic institutions   their understanding of the tested
         vary and change over time.                                                          concepts.
 10.2    Understand the ways in which the Australian Constitution impacts on the lives of         The report found that young
         Australian citizens.
                                                                                             Australians seemed to appreciate
 10.3    Understand the role of law-making and governance in Australia’s democratic          their democracy, but their level of
                                                                                             knowledge and understanding of civics
 10.4    Understand the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a range of contexts.      and citizenship was less than was
 10.5    Analyse how Australia’s ethnic and cultural diversity contribute to Australian      expected by a range of experts in the
         democracy, identity and social cohesion.                                            field. These experts set the proficiency
 10.6    Analyse Australia’s role as a nation in the global community.                       standards for Years 6 and 10, after
                                                                                             considerable examination of the
 KPM 2: Citizenship: Dispositions and Skills for Participation
                                                                                             student achievement data and the scale
 Within secondary schooling this KPM expects that students can:                              that had been developed.
 10.7    Understand that citizens require certain knowledge, skills and dispositions to           The report (page xii) describes the
         participate effectively in democratic political and civic action.                   proficiency standards in the following
 10.8    Analyse the role of a critical citizenry in Australia’s democracy.                  way:
 10.9    Analyse the relationship between democratic values and social justice as an            The proficiency standard is a level of
         important aspect of Australia’s democratic tradition.                                  performance that would be expected
 10.10 Analyse the reasons Australians make choices about participating in political and        for a student at that year level.
         civic processes.                                                                       Students needed to demonstrate more
                                                                                                than minimal or elementary skills
  Source:                               to be regarded as having reached a
                                                                                                proficient standard. The Proficient
                                                                                                Standard for Year 6 was set at
understandings, based on both civic              Personal and Social Learning strand            Proficiency Level 2 and for Year 10
knowledge and attitudes or values.               of VELS—it is not a discipline within          at Proficiency Level 3.
                                                                                                     Students who achieved at
They also reference the provision                the Discipline-based Learning strand.
                                                                                                Proficiency Level 2 were able to
of opportunity to practise civic                 In addition, the Physical, Personal and
                                                                                                demonstrate accurate responses
competencies, is required for effective          Social Learning strand is one of three         to relatively simple civics and
citizenship education. Without both              equally valued and interwoven strands          citizenship concepts or issues, with
civic knowledge as defined above and             of VELS, emphasising the importance            limited interpretation or reasoning.
a disposition to engagement, a person            of whole-school approaches.                    They could, for example, identify
cannot demonstrate the required                                                                 more than one basic feature of
citizenship skills or effectively practise       MCEETYA National Assessment                    democracy or democratic process,
citizenship.                                     Program: Years 6 and 10                        have basic understandings of citizens’
                                                 In 2003, ACER was contracted by                taxation and/or civic responsibilities,
Is Civics and Citizenship a subject?             MCEETYA to conduct the assessment              and recognise tensions between
The short answer is no. Because                  of a national sample of more than              democratic rights and private actions.
teaching civics and citizenship will             20 000 Australian Year 6 and Year 10                Students who achieved at
generate learning outcomes that relate           students in approximately 600 schools          Proficiency Level 3 were able to
to a range of issues and skills, it can          in 2004. The assessment comprised              demonstrate comparatively precise
be meaningfully connected to any                 multiple-choice and open-ended                 and detailed factual responses to
                                                                                                complex civics and citizenship
learning area. It is possible to have civics     response questions on concepts such
                                                                                                concepts or issues, and some
and citizenship learning outcomes built          as the rationale for the citizenship
                                                                                                interpretation of information. They
into all curricular and extracurricular          pledge, social responsibility, basic           could, for example, identify the
activities and programs in schools.              historical and political facts and the         historical event remembered on
    All jurisdictions have civics and            impact of influencing factors such as          Anzac Day, clearly understand the
citizenship learning outcomes listed             the media on democracy. The National           mechanisms and importance of secret
in their curriculum documents. In                Assessment Program: Civics and                 ballot, and understand the general
Victoria, Civics and Citizenship                 Citizenship Years 6 and 10 Report was          effect of sanctions in international
is a domain within the Physical,                 released in late December 2006.                agreements.
 COMPAK 2007 • Issue 1 • February

       Half of Year 6 students and 39         one of the most encouraging aspects        for students to be represented on
  per cent of Year 10 students met the        was the fact that some students were       student councils and that student
  proficiency standards in Australian         able to achieve at higher levels than      representatives could contribute to
  civics and citizenship knowledge, as        had been expected. It is not possible      decision-making.
  defined for their respective years.         to know whether this was a result of           More than four-fifths of the Year 6
       Students lacked knowledge of key       particular teaching or life experiences,   students, and two-thirds of the Year 10
  information about national events           but the specificity of knowledge and       students, indicated that at school they
  and nationally representative symbols.      complexity of response required (as        had learned about governance, the
  Students also notably struggled with        demonstrated by the item response          importance of voting in elections and
  the concept of ‘the common good’—           descriptors) suggests that well-taught     how to represent other students, and
  strategies that refer to how individuals    students can indeed achieve well           were interested in how their school
  can influence systems for the benefit of    beyond the expected proficiency in         worked. Furthermore, more than nine-
  society. They either didn’t understand      civics and citizenship.                    tenths of the students agreed that they
  it, didn’t believe in it, or couldn’t see        The data collected in the             had learned to work cooperatively
  how they could exercise it.                 National Civics and Citizenship            with other students and to understand
       According to ACER CEO Professor        Sample Assessment in Civics are            people who had ideas that are different
  Geoff Masters:                              taken to be the base from which            from their own.
                                              future measurement of growth in                Participation in out-of-school
     The results of this assessment
                                              student achievement in this area           civic-related activities appeared to
     indicate a need for a greater emphasis
                                              will be constructed. Subsequent            have a moderate contribution to civics
     on civics and citizenship education
                                              National Civics and Citizenship            achievement among Year 10 students.
     in schools. It is important that
                                              Sample Assessments may show an             Specifically, frequent engagement in
     Australian students develop a sound
                                              improvement in student performance         talking about politics and social issues
     understanding of how Australia’s
                                              if students receive more consistent        with family was quite strongly related
     government and democracy work in
                                              instruction in civics and citizenship      to civics achievement.
     order to participate fully in society.
                                              and if teachers receive quality
      Two of the findings that surprised      professional development to assist         Future assessments of civics and
  the experts and researchers involved        them to maximise the value of              citizenship education
  Australian history. Only 16 per cent        curriculum support programs such as        The program of national assessments is
  of Year 6 students and 23 per cent of       Discovering Democracy.                     ongoing and assessments will be held
  Year 10 students could correctly name                                                  every three years. ACER will conduct
  the event commemorated on Australia         Student participation in civics and        the next phase of the MCEETYA
  Day. Further, only 17 per cent of Year      citizenship activities outside school      National Assessment Program: Civics
  6 and 27 per cent of Year 10 students       According to the National Assessment       and Citizenship in 2007. Preparation
  could articulate why Australia Day          Program report, watching the news on       work is under way for the 2007
  was sometimes called Invasion Day.          television was the most frequent civic-    assessment, which will involve a
      Students also struggled to explain      related activity outside school, with      sample of around 14 000 students at
  the significance of iconic symbols and      four out of five students watching the     Year 6 and Year 10 levels in over 600
  events such as aspects of the Australian    news at least once a week.                 schools. After the student achievement
  flag and ANZAC Day. The role of the              Listening to the news on the radio    data from the 2007 assessment
  Governor-General provided another           and reading about current events           are analysed it will be possible to
  stumbling block with only 7% per cent       in newspapers were less frequent           determine whether improvement has
  of Year 6 students and 23% of Year          activities, with three out of five         been made since 2004.
  10 students able to correctly identify      students listening to the news and
  official vice-regal duties. The report’s    one-half of the students reading about     Further information
  authors suggested that more targeted        current events at least once a week.       The National Assessment Program:
  teaching is required if students are to     One-third of the students talked           Civics and Citizenship Years 6 and 10
  learn about these things.                   about political and social issues with     Report is available on the MCEETYA
      While the researchers and the           their family at least once per week.       website <
  experts from state and territory            All of these civic activities were more    mceetya>.
  education authorities were somewhat         frequent for Year 10 students than
  surprised and disappointed at the           Year 6 students.                           Curriculum resources
  results, they recognised that students           According to students,                A wide range of curriculum resources
  could not have been expected to             opportunities existed in most schools      suitable for secondary courses
  achieve the relevant proficiency            for students to participate in decision-   incorporating civics and citizenship
  standard if they have not had               making and school governance               topics and details about national
  any formal, consistent curricular           activities. More than four-fifths of the   activities can be found on the Civics
  instruction in civics and citizenship.      students (including nine out of 10 of      and Citizenship Education website
      Despite the concerns about the          the Year 10 students) indicated that       <>.
  relatively low levels of achievement,       their school provided an opportunity