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I'm author of The Snipesville Chronicles. I'm also a published academic historian, but don't hold that against me.Oh, and I'm a Brit. I just happen to live in Georgia.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Opinion: Georgia Kids Fail CRCT Social Studies Test. Why Is Everyone Surprised?

This morning's news: Georgia State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox has thrown out the middle school CRCT test results for social studies (meaning history, with a bit of geography), after 70-80 percent of students failed.

Let me be blunt:

First, the test is likely rubbish, with a focus on arcane facts. Just a guess, because, unless I am mistaken, none of us can see it.

Second, teachers, most of whom had an inadequate education in the overcrowded classrooms of the state's university system, from the overworked and demoralized professors of the USG, were not taught history in a meaningful way that they can communicate to their own students, and so teach history as one wretched thing after another.

Third, the professors of the USG who teach history to the future teachers are pressured to eschew taking time that good teaching demands, and instead to publish scholarship that, most of the time, is far too underfunded to be good enough even to make a dent in the consciousness of the historical profession. Those of us who strive to teach beyond memorization and multiple choice get no real support.

Fourth, when the state came up with its new curriculum a few years ago, the first time they asked for the opinions of academic historians was when it was already a done deal, and without any promise of reward or recognition. They sent an email with the curriculum attached. Most of us looked at page after page of standards, saw problems, considered that we wouldn't be listened to even if we took hours we don't have to produce a reasoned critique, and hit delete.

As one example of the problems I spotted, kids in third grade are supposed to be taught that there is a direct link between Greek democracy and the kind practiced in America today. There isn't. You cannot find work by an historian that shows such a link exists. How are teachers supposed to teach that? And how are teachers supposed to teach social and cultural history by examining a random group of unrepresentative Americans as the curriculum suggests, from Abe Lincoln to Rosa Parks to Ronald Reagan (who, by the way, is extolled as an example that kids should follow. This politicization of history should outrage all of us, regardless of our personal views.)

Now the Superintendent is forming a committee to review the curriculum. Will any historians be on it? Don't hold your breath. What would historians know about history?

As an historian, as a history professor, and as a mother of a son who is being tested to death in a public school in Georgia, I am tired. Tired of encountering students who, having been tested and tested on random facts in high school, arrive in college profoundly ignorant of even those facts you would think would be common knowledge and, worse, incapable of thinking historically after years of cramming trivia. Tired of watching as my son fills out dreary worksheets and spends weeks taking meaningless tests, while his class spends zero time on history in the classroom at an age when he is most eager to learn it. Tired of watching the state continue to pretend that historians don't exist, even as it discovers that it cannot teach history without us.


Jon said...

Anyone who wishes can look at the CRCT Social Studies Standards for 6-8th grade Social Studies at:

Bullet Point follows Bullet Point with no unifying purpose other than Georgia Law Requires this. I teach Georgia History at the University Level, so the 8th grade History Standards are fascinating to me.

First, Each and every bullet point is the subject of numerous monographs. To expect teachers, much less students to have a good handle on such a vast field of information is absurd. There are 40 such bullet points. Typical is this one,
"Explain the immediate and the long term causes of the American Revolution and their impact on Georgia; include the French and Indian War (ie. Seven Years War), Proclamation of 1763,Stamp Act, Intolerable Acts, and the Declaration of Independence."

Good Luck, you could be given any multiple choice questions drawn from that, ie "The Proclimation of 1763 was issued by:
A. King George II
B. The Long Parliament
C. The Lord Chamberlain
D. None of the Above

Good Luck, students.

Annette Laing said...

Jon, I also found sample tests, but haven't had a chance yet to read them through in detail. From what I have gathered, though, your critique is spot on. The "read my mind" multiple choice tests are absurd, as is the sheer number of topics expected to be taught. Once again, acquisition "material" is protrayed as more important than thinking, even though,as we all know (or should) kids soon forget facts and figures, especially when these haven't been studied in any meaningful way..

Annette Laing said...

P.S. I just looked over the "preparation" guide for the GACE history test required of prospective teachers. It's even worse: Poorly-constructed questions that are ambigious, cover a breathtaking range of subjects, and presume psychic ability on the examinee's part. I have a PhD in American and British and years of in teaching and scholarship. I doubt I would do well on this test...and nor would I want to. What a travesty. Who on earth designs this drivel?

Jennifer said...

Thank You all for your comments. I actually ran across this post while desperately seeking advice on the GACE. First of all, I am a 7 year vetern teacher who has been nominated 3 times, and selected once to be teacher of the year. Yet, a little move across state lines, and I find myself staring a questions about ancient Chinese history that are begining to terrify me. The point is, history is broad. The state refuses to see it as such. Therefore, they mangle it. I do not have time to teach thinking, and that is sad. I have time to cover a few facts, and test, test, test. The fact is, High school students in georgia are tested to no avail. And here I am, bright, enthusiastic, and petrified I am going to fail some "test" that no one in their right mind could possibly prep for. Have you seen the GACE content? Granted, I will probably pass, but this is absurd!

Annette Laing said...

I haven't seen the GACE, but I have certainly heard about it from my former students, and what they have told me is indeed absurd. You're right: Whoever puts this curriculum together is either clueless abut history or (my theory) is a committee made up mostly of bureaucrats and gutless wonder historians who cave in to politics. Hang in there and keep speaking out. I visit many schools, and *every* good social studies teacher at *every* level is upset and frustrated. The bad ones just shrug their shoulders and spout the factoids. Happily, they're in the minority. Unhappily, if this isn't addressed, they will be the majority soon.