Liz Becker already identified one of the major problems with doing SBG in the history classroom: our standards are not that great to being with: they are often broad or ambiguous. But even once we have a good standard list (as Liz, Erik, and myself are all trying to do), there is still another challenge that math and English teachers don’t face as often: How do we assess for understanding of the standards? With math or english standards, this is fairly straight forward, most of the time (there are some exceptions, but not many). Here are two examples from the new National Common Core Standards (which NY very quietly adopted this week):
Common Core Algebra Standard: Identify zeros of polynomials when suitable factorizations are available, and use the zeros to construct a rough graph of the function defined by the polynomial.
Common Core English Language Arts Standard: Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
In both cases, it’s fairly obvious how to assess for this. With the math, you ask a student to identify zeros of a polynomial, and use the zeros to construct a rough graph, and then you see if they did it correctly. With the ELA, you ask students to write something where they introduce precise, knowledgeable claims, etc, and then see how well they did that.
In the history classroom, things are not always this easy. They are with some skill standards and some basic content standards, but rarely are with the deep, meaningful, important standards that would enable SBG to work in Social Studies class. Here is one example, from the OAH Skill Standards my history department has adopted for next year:
Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances and contemporary factors contributing to problems and alternative courses of action.
For one, you certainly can’t tell a student to “marshall eveidence of antecdent circumstances.” But more importantly, it is impossible to assess this on a traditional test, because there is no right answer. A short response question can give you some idea of a level of a student’s understanding, but to really display deep understanding, students will have to create a larger and more significant body of work. This is why standardized tests, like the NY Regents exam, do not and cannot assess college readiness, nor anything else worthwhile in the longterm development of a student. The only way to assess whether or not a student can “Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances and contemporary factors contributing to problems and alternative courses of action” is to give them an an extended performance assessment or a project-based assessment.