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History Geek Week Day Three: Beyond the Bubble and the new world of social studies assessment

Okay. I know that it’s 7:45 am on a Saturday morning but perhaps the best session of the day is ready to go and there’s maybe 20 people here.

Joel Breakstone and Mark Smith from the Stanford History Education Group are here to talk about their awesome new assessment tool called Beyond the Bubble. (SHEG is the group started and led by the history superhero, Sam Wineburg.) I know that it’s new and maybe people haven’t heard enough about it yet. But seriously. This is what assessment should look like in the world of the Common Core, C3 national standards, and the new Kansas state standards.

I was wrong. 8:00 am and it’s standing room only. Which is a good thing. Because Beyond the Bubble is perhaps the best place I’ve found for really measuring historical thinking.

Good teachers have been doing this sort of thing forever but I like that the SHEG people have provided a specific structure that make it easier for teachers to continue to do this type of thing. And for teachers who haven’t been doing this, here ya go.

Why did they create the site? SHEG was already moving in a different direction but at least part of their thinking was influenced by Barack:

I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.

President Obama

SHEG knew there is a problem with the current assessment models that are available to teachers. There are multiple choice tests on one end of the assessment continuum and incredibly complex Document-Based Questions on the other. So what’s wrong with these types of assessments?

Multiple Choice:

  • limited in what they can measure
  • don’t look much like “history”
  • provide very little about actual student thinking
  • teach poor approaches to problem solving – “If you don’t know the answer, just move on!”
  • narrow the curriculum

So multiple choice can be imprecise – did they guess? Do they actually know the content or just got lucky? Is this historical thinking or simply memorization? So not really a good type of formative assesment.


  • demand historical argumentation
  • demands a lot of historical knowledge
  • must process documents quickly
  • must be an expert writing
  • test taking skills
  • very complex
  • requires a long time to score

So DBQs can be imprecise – are your kids good writers, good historical thinkers, or good “test takers?” So not really a good type of formative assesment.

So they begin working to create a middle option. They came up with what they are calling Historical Assessments of Thinking or HATs. HATs are designed to measure one or more of the following aspects of historical knowing:

Evaluation of evidence involves the critical assessment of historical sources.  It includes the following:

  • Sourcing asks students to consider who wrote a document as well as the circumstances of its creation. Who authored a given document? When? For what purpose?
  • Contextualization asks students to locate a document in time and place, and to understand how these factors shape its content.
  • Corroboration asks students to consider details across multiple sources to determine points of agreement and disagreement.

Historical knowledge encompasses various ways of knowing about the past, including:

  • Historical information is the recognition and recall of important factual data.
  • Significance requires students to evaluate the importance of people and events.
  • Periodization asks students to group ideas and events by era.
  • Narrative is deep knowledge of how the past unfolded over time.

Historical argumentation requires the articulation of historical claims and the use of evidence to support them.

HATs provide a simple, fast, easily scored, flexible, adaptable, accessible to all types of kids, and an aligned method of training kids to think historically. And perhaps more importantly, they provide quick formative assessment data that can be used by teachers to modify their instruction. You also get a simple rubric with samples of student work and rubric explanations.

I’ve written about Beyond the Bubble before. Back then I suggested that the site is a no-brainer for social studies teachers and that SHEG was “more awesomier than ever.” After listening to Mark and Joel, I’m even more convinced that this is the direction that 21st century assessment is going.

And based on the number of people in the room this morning, perhaps teachers are starting to realize the need for this type of measurement tool and will begin to use it as part of their instructional units.

Head over and join the crowd.

(FYI. World History HATs are on the way.)

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jen #

    Wow- great resource! Would you know if there is anything similar that could be used for World History? Thanks for sharing your experiences at the conference!

    November 17, 2012
    • glennw #

      Yes. Joel said a World History version is on the way. A lot of their US history work is based on the curriculum on their SHEG site:

      Joel said World History curriculum / lessons should be online at SHEG in the next two weeks or so. So I am assuming that the Beyond the Bubble world history assessment version is soon to follow.


      November 17, 2012
  2. Lauren F. #

    Attended the same session. It was THE BEST ONE of the entire conference.

    November 18, 2012
  3. Dang… I was there waiting outside the door. I couldn’t get in. The site does have World History links, they just aren’t posted clearly. They’re in the links listed in the summary of the activity. Too bad I missed you.

    November 21, 2012
    • glennw #

      I went early because we had asked Joel Breakstone, one of the presenters, to come share about the site with our TAH middle school group and I wanted to chat a bit before they started.

      Am excited about their idea of a “third way,” a middle ground between MC and DBQ tests, that provides a structure for teachers to use right away and for adapting to their own needs.

      Sorry you couldn’t get in! Would have been fun to talk. What were some of the better sessions you did attend?


      November 21, 2012

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