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Transparent Kansas State History / Government Standards

It’s the first meeting of the Kansas state history/government writing committee today. Lots of history geekiness, lots of great conversation and lots of confusion all at the same time. And because we’re confused, the more help you can provide the better. So here’s the transparency.

I mentioned earlier, during the first two days of the larger standards committee, that I was having a James Madison Constitutional Convention moment. We started out tweaking the old standards and quickly decided that tweaking wasn’t going to be enough. We needed to come up with something that has a strong content component but which also focuses more on historical thinking skills.

So . . . we’re struggling a bit. It’s very easy to create a generic list of historical events – it’s what we have now. But we want teachers and kids to see the big picture. How do these past events connect with one another and with contemporary events?

To help with this, we’ve developed five Big Ideas or Anchor Standards or Core Standards or . . . we’re not sure what to call them but we’re hoping to replace the generic titles like History, Civics, Geography and Economics. The goal is to not have silo-like, separated from each other, content areas but rather broad themes that encourage kids to see relationships and connections across periods and places.

And we’re working to fit content into these five Core Standards:

  • Choices have consequences.
  • Individuals have rights and responsibilities.
  • Society is shaped by beliefs, ideas and diversity.
  • Societies experience continuity and change over time.
  • The relationships among people, places and environment are dynamic.

We’ve also developed a working course level template. You can get that template here. The first two pages of the template list the five Core Standards and four “benchmark” level statements under each standard. We’re planning on listing specific indicators under each of these benchmarks. The second part is an example of a grade level narrative that attempts to provide a basic overview for teachers listing grade level content, content that is taught before / after this grade and expectations of historical thinking skills. The third piece is our attempt to create a chronological list of the specific indicators. (And realize that the second and third pieces in the template are placeholders and not necessarily actual stuff.)

The group is working today to add content specificity to each of these “benchmark” level statements. It’s hard. It’s hard because we trying to organize history / government / economic / geography content in a very different way. We think we’re on the right track but right now it seems a bit like running in mud.

Curious what you think about the Core Standards, the “benchmark” level standards statements and the template. All are at the incredibly rough draft stage. I would love to hear what you like and what you don’t. (I would be especially curious what non-Kansans have to say!)

Are we on the right track?

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  1. So if I understand this correctly, you will have specific content that teachers need to teach? Or is that what page 5 – 8 is, or will it be more specific? In Va, we do, and it helps. But, that’s when the Interest Groups come out to make sure “their” history is included. For example, our state standards include that Robert E. Lee was the President of Washington University after the Civil War. Guess who made sure that happened?

    I like how you’re connecting it with future learning. Will it be connected to past learning also? I see this, “Connecting with Past Learning” but it didn’t include what students did in previous grades like the former disusses what these 8th graders will do in 11th grade.

    I’m definitely following this.

    November 21, 2011
    • glennw #

      We are really struggling with what level of specificity we want. The plan right now is to create “indicator” level statements (Analyze the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution and the success of each in implementing the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.) for each grade / class and include them in two places: under each of the five “big ideas” / standards and in chronological order as listed on pgs. 5-8. We value input from outside groups but are also afraid of being asked to add too much detail. Our hope is that a well written narrative piece will provide a place for additional specificity.

      We do want to be more specific about the “Connecting with Past learning”-that section is really more of a place holder right now. We’re also thinking of how to add sections to the narrative that gives advice about what can be left out of classroom instruction, i.e. non-essential information – “Beyond Lee and Meade, there is no need for students to know individual generals who fought at the battle of Gettysburg,” for example.

      There’s also been some discussion about creating essential questions for each grade’s “big ideas” / standards.

      Part of the problem, and fun at the same time, is that this sort of thinking is so different that our current standards. It can make for slow growing! So I appreciate your comments, questions and suggestions.



      November 21, 2011
  2. Mike Hasley #

    In VA, when we first had standards, the were very basic. Here is the document: I’m not calling it good or bad, but it was vague. For example, it would only say: The student will analyze and explain events and ideas of the Revolutionary Period, with emphasis on: the Declaration of Independence and “Common Sense.” Well, that sentence alone can be a 500 page book. But on our end of course test, it might just ask where did Thomas Paine immigrate from? How would a teacher know to teach that, yet be evaluated on that bit of trivia? So, in 2001, they made this: Which specifically stated in the same example:
    Thomas Paine was an English immigrant to America who produced a pamphlet known as Common Sense that challenged the rule of the American colonies by the King of England. Common Sense was read and acclaimed by many American colonists during the mid-1700s and contributed to a growing sentiment for independence from England.

    So now, teacher knew exactly what to teach. Which is great for being held accountable to the end-of-course test, but isn’t the best way to teach history. That was the conflict we had. We’re in our third version now, which sadly blends both. We have the specifics, but our end of course tests will ask questions not directly found in the SOLs….just hinted at. Which frustrates teachers and students to no end. For example, students on the end of year test to know that Hawaii was annexed because the US wanted it as a refueling station. That verbiage is nowhere in our current framework. It’s just a random fact in the test but the writers felt it should be an “understood” reason. This causes our teachers problems as you can see, just how many “understood” facts are there???

    Anyway…. I’m enjoying the progress you’re making on this.

    November 22, 2011
    • glennw #


      We’re struggling with the same thing – how to create a standards document so that we get the assessment we want. Too specific is bad and too broad is also bad, for the same reasons you describe. We really did start our conversation with the end in mind, meaning what sort of test do we want. Our hope is that we can create a test that focuses on broader issues and is more performance-based. Kansas has an online test that is used for writing that we hope to adapt.

      The goal is that we test not at the specific indicator level (i.e. multiple choice) but at the benchmark level. An example would be: The student will investigate an example of causes and consequences of particular choices and connect those choices with contemporary issues. More of a focus on doing history, rather than memorizing facts.

      So an actual test question might focus on choices made by those at the Constitutional Convention and the student must be able to write about the different choices that were made and their impact on the present. We’re thinking of “required” state level assessments at specific grade levels (6th, 8th, HS) but are hoping that because of the “open-source” style of the online test, teachers/schools can create their own formative questions and use the tool all the time. So teachers are getting both formative, student-specific data and the state is happy with summative, program-level data. And it might be the balance between teachers not knowing “what to teach for the test” because it’s too specific and not knowing what to teach because it’s too broad. We may be dreaming but that’s the idea right now.

      Of course, this all assumes that we can create standards that make sense.

      Don’t wait up. This may take a while!

      (BTW, looked again at the VA document and was reminded again of some of the nice pieces in the document. I especially like the essential questions. Not sure if I have enough pull to squeeze those into our document.)


      November 22, 2011

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