What the Common Core Means for History Learning & Teaching

I’m part of a roundtable on teachinghistory.org on the question, “What do the Common Core State Standards mean for history teaching and learning?”  My take:

I am pretty sure I am supposed to be against the Common Core Standards…[but they] offer us an opportunity to broaden the conception of our discipline from one that focuses on helping students acquire an established body of knowledge to one that emphasizes the historical thinking skills that are central to constructing this knowledge. What the standards do in a simple and elegant fashion is clearly articulate the disciplinary skills necessary not only for reaching the relatively low bar of “college and career readiness,” but also for the much greater calling of creating an informed and critical citizenry.

Read the rest of mine here, and the whole series of insightful posts here.

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9 thoughts on “What the Common Core Means for History Learning & Teaching

  1. Which standard requires students to “construct their own interpretations” of anything? Also, comparing these standards to what existing tests measure is not an apples to apples comparison. How do these standards compare to existing standards? Are they really so different?

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  2. One Common Core standard that the NYC DOE wants implemented this year is Writing Standard 1, which involves “Writ[ing] arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” I teach a history elective, as well as a core course, and decided to spend the whole Fall semester of the elective reading primary and secondary texts on a particular historical era, analyzing those sources both for content and context, and having students write a final paper using those sources to support their chosen point of view about the era. I allowed for a range of student theses, so long as they were well supported. Students were also supposed to include a section rebutting opposing claims. To me, that constitutes constructing their own interpretation of events (by using and analyzing historical evidence).

    The NY State core content standards do say that students should learn multiple perspectives about events, but having taught that standard course several times, I find it possible to do only a much more superficial analysis, compared to I was able to do in the elective. I know teachers aren’t supposed to say this, but there is simply too much content to cover. I am not the first to say the exam is a mile wide and an inch deep. It becomes a game of, “If you see a question about this, the answer will most likely be that.” Also, the rubric for grading Regents exam essays allows for a pass for a fairly poorly written product (see the level 2 standard — 2 level 2 essays can get many students to pass). And I, my students, and the school will all be judged on how many students pass that exam.

    So I do think the standards are different, the Regents exam to date has not tested what the Commmon Core is seeking, and I might be able to implement both sets of standards if I keep having 2 different courses in which to teach them.

    BTW, Stephen, are your 3 posts in a day due to the same reason I’m able to write this response? (Jan. Regents!!)

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  3. The standard does not require the student to come up with their own claim or interpretation — and that is very intentional. The assessment will almost certainly provide both the text and the claims to allow easier scoring by computers.

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  4. @Tom: Here’s where I see students being required to construct their own interpretations (I’m quoting the Grades 11-12 standards):
    – Writing Standard 7: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self- generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
    – Writing Standard 8: Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience
    As far as your question about comparisons, I can only speak from my experience in Virginia and New York, where the Social Studies standards are merely a list of content to be covered, without regards to any skills.

    As I wrote in the piece though, while the standards are an opportunity, none of this will matter if the aligned assessments don’t demand students to do things like extended research.

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  5. Hi Stephen,

    Gathering information, answering a question or solving a problem through research does not necessarily require interpretation. It can be strictly factual. And there is no reason in particular to think that it shouldn’t be. That’s the most consistent and reliable way to assess the standard as written. Assessing the task, purpose and audience of sources can be taught and assessed in terms of a fairly rote set of rules.

    The assessments are going to demand EXACTLY what is described in the standards, not a bit more, and there will be no grounds for arguing against it. They’re basically written as a test specification by representatives of testing companies.

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  6. I disagree – I think the combination of answering a question, synthesizing multiple sources, and evaluating multiple sources will require more than just factual research.

    Again, can’t speak for anywhere else, but I’m involved in writing the assessments for NYC, and we are demanding that students create their own interpretations of history from a variety of sources.

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  7. And… just to wrap this up. The reason I’m so jacked up about this question is that I actually read the international benchmarks which were provided for the first (and only the first) draft of the standards, and when you read them you see that pretty much every other country would simply have a standard like “students create their own interpretations of history from a variety of sources” and Common Core very specifically does not.

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