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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.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Georgia Social Studies Test Fiasco, Part 2

The president of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies has issued an announcement about a hastily-proposed revision of curriculum following the disastrous results of the multiple-guess test administered to middle schoolers this spring.

Honestly, without a great deal of autonomy for classroom teachers in choosing curriculum to cover, and without essay exams (the sine qua non), I'm not sure that tweaking will work.

I always remember asking my British history teacher in the Seventies to show me the syllabus for the "O" level exams we took at age 16. With great solemnity, he pulled a chunky book off his shelf, opened it, and passed it to me. As I recall, the entire Government-created syllabus was "English history, 1066-Present." That was it.

How did this work? On the day of the exam, we all received booklets of essay questions, and we flipped through them until we reached the areas we had covered in class, then picked out three we wanted to answer. While imperfect, this system allowed teachers to teach to their strengths and interests, and for us to learn in depth, which also meant learning a passion for the subject and the critical thinking skills that come with it.

And as for periods we didn't cover? Did we remain forever ignorant? Sometimes we covered them earlier or later in our school careers...and, by the time our formal education ended, we had been equipped with the enthusiasm and knowledge to pursue whatever interested us on our own, then and later. For the record, I taught myself American history for pleasure in my mid-teens, and now have a Ph.D. in it, a subject we barely covered at school. Contrast that with my college students, who have been repeatedly force-fed broad surveys in American and World history, and arrive in my classroom without a clue or a care.

All that said, I have asked a few Georgian colleagues to work with me to create and submit our sixpence worth to the proposed revisions in the Georgia social studies curriculum. Meanwhile, here's the text of the GCSS email:

"As social studies educators, we often long for more attention to be given to our disciplines – more emphasis in the classroom, more support by administrators, and more attention by the public. Though the circumstances are not what we necessarily would have desired, social studies has certainly been “in the news” around our state for the past few weeks. Many of us were disappointed with the performance of our 6th and 7th graders on the CRCT this spring; there clearly were problems in our curriculum and our testing program that needed to be addressed.
The State Department of Education took immediate action by forming a committee of social studies teachers, supervisors, state DOE leaders, and college faculty that worked tirelessly during late May to revamp the curriculum for 6th and 7th grade. I’d like to thank these individuals for giving their time and expertise to this task. Such decisions are not easy to make and require both debate and compromise. The results of their work were presented to the Social Studies Advisory Council in early June, where further discussion took place and further changes were suggested.
In addition to the extensive changes made to the 6th and 7th grade GPS, the standards for grades 3-5 and grades 8-12 also underwent a scheduled Precision Review this spring. The proposed changes for these grade levels are relatively minor in most cases, often rephrasing or rewording standards and elements for the purpose of clarity and better alignment.
Now, here’s the exciting part for us as GCSS members! ALL of the proposed revisions that I just mentioned (grades 3 through 12) are now posted on the DOE website for public comment. This is your chance as a social studies professional to voice your opinions about the proposed changes and to help shape the state social studies curriculum. The period for public comment will continue through early August. I strongly encourage you to participate in this process! Your comments and suggestions are vital to the process of finalizing the proposed revisions before the state Board of Education votes on them in August. Go to
www.georgiastandards.org and click on Social Studies to view the revisions and submit comments."

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