Revamp Social Studies Achievement Tests
I have been blogging about the upcoming meetings which will be held to discuss the assessment process currently in place and ways to improve it. I wish I had seen anywhere in the statements made by either Arne Duncan or the Department of Education the need to revamp the social studies achievement tests. Let me state my case, and feel free to tell me if you agree or not.
One of the issues we have in Ohio, which may or may not be true of all states’ achievement tests, is that so much of our social studies test at the fifth grade level is a fourth grade test, in that it is based on material covered in Ohio history in fourth grade. Now, I understand the rationale that students should remember what they learned the year before and build on that knowledge the next year. But Ohio history and United States history involve two completely different curriculums, and the only time they converge is when we talk about the Mid West region or historical events that occurred in Ohio. Therefore, to ask students on a fifth grade achievement test to recall very specific information about Ohio inventors or battles and other events that occurred in Ohio seems both unfair and unnecessary. How many of us could remember specific details about events we learned about a year ago? Does this really test mastery of the social studies standards?
These tests contain many questions which, in my opinion and other teachers I have spoken to as well, have little or nothing to do with understanding the foundations upon which our nation is built. We should be assessing students’ broader knowledge of important concepts pertaining to:
* the exploration and colonization of our nation and how this affected the Native Americans who lived here
* our fight for independence
* the formation of a workable government through the Constitution of the United States
* the branches of government and how they effectively check and balance each other
* citizen’s rights and responsibilities
* a basic knowledge of economy
* immigration; reasons for it and how it shaped our nation
* how industrialization, transportation, and expansion changed our nation
If our social studies test would address these issues in a broad way, I believe it would be a truer test of how well students understand the country in which they live. Shouldn’t the goal in teaching social studies be to educate the younger citizens to have pride in their country and instill a desire to be responsible, contributing members of the society they will play an active role in when their education is complete? If that is our goal, then shouldn’t our test reflect that goal? Or would we prefer citizens who can recall the Battle of Fallen Timbers and what the most important outcome of that battle was?
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is admirable to have the ability to recite specific and detailed information about the past. I am just not sure that this is the criterion upon which we wish to base mastery of social studies. The time has come to revamp these tests with the true goal in mind; to create citizens who have a solid understanding of their nation and a strong desire to serve it as contributing members. Otherwise, I think we’ve missed the mark.