Posts Tagged ‘Social Studies’

Assessing History: For SB 1654

April 16, 2014 8 comments

Yesterday, Superintendent Barresi issued a bulletin asserting the importance of social studies tests. I’ll just share a portion with you here, but you can follow the link to the full post.

Superintendent Barresi joins educators in opposing
proposal to weaken social studies, U.S. history instruction

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 15, 2014) — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi and various educators around Oklahoma and across the country are expressing concerns that proposed state legislation would erase Oklahoma’s ability to measure student knowledge of social studies, geography and a significant portion of U.S. history.

Senate Bill 1654 seeks to eliminate state assessments on social studies in grades five and eight, as well as geography in grade seven. The seventh-grade world geography test is the only time students are currently tested on geographic knowledge.

While the U.S. history end-of-instruction exam would remain in place in high school, that assessment only covers standards that encompass history following the Civil War.

That means students would not be assessed that they know about the founding of the colonies, the Declaration of independence, the Revolutionary War, the writing of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Civil War — in addition to everything else that happened in early American history.

“Oklahomans know what our nation’s flag represents. Thousands of Oklahomans sacrificed their lives fighting for it and thousands more are prepared to stand up for it today,” said Barresi. “If this bill passes — combined with another law enacted last year that diminishes end-of-instruction exams — it is possible that a student in Oklahoma could go through 12th grade without ever having been assessed on America’s heritage or values. What message do we send if we dispense with the ability to ensure the teaching of what, in many respects, is the story of America?”

Kelly Curtright, director of social studies education at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), said eliminating the assessments would deemphasize social studies in elementary and middle schools, which are the foundational levels of learning and assessing if our youngest citizens are understanding their history and heritage.” Curtright is also the current president of the Oklahoma Council for the Social Studies, which represents 1,400-plus educators.

“When citizens of a democracy are deprived of an effective social studies education, it places our citizens, our democratic principles and our Republic at risk. Citizenship illiteracy is no less destructive than reading illiteracy. We simply cannot afford to raise a generation of civic amnesiacs. Citizenship is as basic as reading, writing and arithmetic,” Curtright said.

This won’t be the fiercest post I’ll ever write, but I should say that I disagree with Barresi, Curtright, and everyone else cited in the full press release. It’s not that I favor marginalizing social studies. It’s that we have already done that. Testing narrows the focus of the curriculum to the state blueprint. It’s as simple as that.

It’s also worth noting that I haven’t found any social studies teachers yet who have looked at the new sample assessment items and felt that they were either developmentally appropriate or well-suited to the Oklahoma Academic Standards. We’re throwing our arms in the air because the future of our nation may be threatened if we don’t subject students to this flawed test…from now into perpetuity.

Ok, maybe there’s some hyperbole in there (on my part too). Failing to have a test does not deprive anybody of a social studies education. High stakes accountability testing every grade in reading and math is what deprives our students of the fullest possible social studies education. It hurts science, art, music, physical education, and meaningful computer training too.

The Tulsa World actually talked with the sponsors of SB 1654 – Mark Allen (R-Spiro) and Tom Ivester (D-Elk City).

Ivester, the bill’s co-author, called the press release “misleading at best and deceptive at worst.”

“This bill doesn’t eliminate the teaching of social studies or civics or anything like that,” he said. “All it does is eliminate any self-imposed testing that is not required by federal law.”

The father of three children — a kindergartner, second- and seventh-grader — said he has his own concerns about the levels of stress and anxiety created by current state testing, but his motivation for sponsoring the bill was the concern he has heard repeatedly from his constituents and other teachers and parents.

“Testing doesn’t necessarily equal learning or education,” Ivester said. “Eliminating a test doesn’t prevent the teaching of a subject. If you take the attitude that unless we test it, it won’t be taught, then sure, their press release works.

On one hand, I agree with Curtright and other social studies teachers who want to ensure that our nation’s history – and all the other content under that academic umbrella – has its due place in learning. On the other hand, I want to see the state spend less money on testing. And I want to see our teachers have more academic freedom. The reasons I abhor testing for reading and math carry over to my feelings about science and social studies too.

This bill passed the Senate unanimously. It should come to the floor of the House this week. While some of my readers may disagree, I hope it passes.

Somewhere Between 1500 and Higgs Boson

Some say you know people by their words. I say you know them by the inconsistencies in their words. That’s why the decision by the State Department of Education not to participate in the development of national standards in Science or Social Studies is so curious.

Oklahoma participated in the development of the Common Core State Standards for literacy and math. Oklahoma has adopted them as the default standards beginning with the 2014-15 school year. The previous governor and state superintendent (Democrats) and the current governor and state superintendent (Republicans) all agree that adoption of these standards was an important reform measure. I’ve said repeatedly that of all the recently enacted changes, this is the one meeting with the least resistance from teachers and administrators.

I’ve personally heard Superintendent Barresi say (on multiple occasions) that Common Core will finally give us a chance to see how our students perform in comparison with students in other states. Back when she used to record video messages, she even said that adopting new standards will “further empower students by giving them a clearly rigorous education that will put them on par with their national peers.” That’s a goal shared by veteran educators as well as education reformers.

Unfortunately, that goal – if the means to achieving it is participation in national curriculum frameworks – is undermined by inconsistent approaches driven by politics. While the state is fully on board with national standards for math and literacy, the same cannot be said for social studies and science curriculum. (It should be noted that we are ok with reforms written by national policy-making groups on issues like digital learning, grade retention, and teacher evaluation).

During the 2011-12 school year, the SDE led educators (yes, actual educators) through the process of developing new social studies standards. While similar work was being done on a national level, Oklahoma chose not to participate. This explains, in part, why American History seems to start at 1500. In truth, I’ve heard a lot more social studies teachers at all grade levels who are dissatisfied with the changes than I’ve heard people who are happy with them. The only defenders of the new standards seem to be the people who worked on developing them.

The only core content area remaining is science. While Oklahoma has yet to officially announce its plans as far as participating in the development of Next Generation Science Standards, all signs point to us moving forward in developing new science standards on our own. Nevermind the countless press releases from the SDE last year when our NAEP scores in science were announced – our plan is going to be to help students perform better on a national assessment by burying our head in the sand and writing our own standards (that will avoid critical issues such as evolution and climate change).

Meanwhile, in a land outside the borders of this state, scientists celebrated the discovery of a Higgs boson (maybe not the Higgs boson – but a Higgs boson). Hopefully, Oklahoma students will have the opportunity to learn about it.

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