<< The Body Politic

State testing and social studies

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

We reported earlier this month that states are beginning to add accountability measures for subjects other than just the federally-required testing in math and reading. Colorado and Oklahoma, for example, plan to add social studies to their assessments. Last week, Maryland joined the group when Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that will require high school seniors–beginning with the class of 2017–to pass a test in government to graduate from high school. The Baltimore Sun reports:

The Maryland State Department of Education dropped the test last year.

Advocates said the test was eliminated as the result of a de-emphasis on social studies stemming from passage of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind bill, which threw federal support behind the instruction of reading and math at the expense of other subjects.

The result, some contend, is that students don’t know much about history–or any of the other branches of social studies.

“In many elementary schools it was hardly taught,” said Scott McComb, president-elect of the Maryland Council for Social Studies. “In some high-poverty areas, it wasn’t taught at all.”

The legislation, McComb said, “will help stem the marginalization of social studies in Maryland.” He said social studies includes such topics as geography and basic financial literacy in elementary school, as well as government and U.S. and world history in high school. The measure also will beef up the state’s commitment to science instruction.

According to the Department of Legislative Services, a 2005 survey found that nine of 10 Maryland elementary school teachers said social studies was not a high-priority subject in their schools.

Our study, High Schools, Civics, and Citizenship: What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do, found similar results and reported that ninety-three percent of social studies teachers think that the subject should be part of every state’s standards and testing.

In Massachusetts, a recent public opinion poll also found that both teachers and the public agree that social studies testing should be more heavily emphasized. According to the Pioneer Institute, the state is one of only nine that does not currently require students to demonstrate knowledge of civics or history before graduating from high school–though the state does have plans to reinstate a test in U.S. history when funding is available.