Wash. State to Require District Tests in Social Studies

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — November 29, 2005 2 min read
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Washington state officials are beginning to distribute model assessments to help districts meet a new mandate for gauging what students know and are able to do in social studies, at a time when other states are abandoning tests in the subject.

As part of the rollout, state education officials have recommended the Facing the Future, National History Day, and We the People programs as frameworks for evaluating students in history and social studies.

Beginning in 2008, all the state’s 296 districts must have classroom-based tests to show how well students have mastered state standards in social studies and to report the results. They will also be required to have such tests in the arts and in health and fitness.

The three approved national history programs require students to show what they’ve learned. The National History Day and We the People programs hold annual local, state, and national competitions in which students present research on a history topic or are quizzed on their knowledge of historical documents. Facing the Future includes a global-studies curriculum and aligned review lessons and assessments.

Under the History Day framework, for example, students “learn how to define a historical question, locate source material, analyze information, and present it in a scholarly manner” in research papers, documentaries, oral presentations, and re-enactments.

The mandate is part of broad legislation passed last year amending the state’s assessment system. It requires, among other measures, classroom-based evaluations of what students have learned “to assure continued support and attention to the essential academic-learning requirements in social studies, the arts, and health and fitness in elementary, middle, and high schools.”

‘A Creative Approach’

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states must, as of this school year, test students in mathematics and reading annually in grades 3-8 and once during high school.Beginning in 2007, states must also test in science. Although history, geography, economics, civics, and government are considered core subjects under the federal law, states are not required to test students in them.

South Carolina officials are also phasing in a state social studies test this school year, the results of which will be included in school report cards.

Several states, including Illinois, Minnesota, and New Hampshire, have abandoned their social studies tests since the legislation became law almost four years ago. As schools devote more time to subjects that are tested and reported under the federal law, some educators have raised concerns that history and social studies, as well as other untested subjects, are being marginalized in the curriculum.

“There has been a move away from testing social studies,” said Susan Griffin, the executive director of the National Council for the Social Studies, in Silver Spring, Md. Washington state’s focus on classroom tests, as opposed to adding another standardized test to the annual schedule, is practical, she said.

“It’s really meant to be the best type of authentic assessment of students’ work,” said Caleb Perkins, the program supervisor for social studies and international education for Washington state’s office of public instruction. “We were looking for another way to assess these areas rather than doing another standardized test.”

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