Skip to content

History Nerd Fest 2013 – 21st century Social Studies assessment

With an awesome name like Bruce VanSledright, you know the guy just has to have his arms wrapped around what quality assessment looks like. I have seen some of his earlier stuff but haven’t heard his thoughts on assessment.

So we’ll see. I have faith.

The idea is that we can use the NCSS College, Career, and Civic Life standards to help use figure out good assessment stuff. Bruce starts out by highlights problems with past and current bubble, MC type tests that focus on foundational knowledge.

These “traditional” kinds of tests are great at measuring the capacity of students to memorize details, to recall isolated knowledge bits, assessments are often designed to actually measure the reliability of the tests themselves, and – just a little tongue in cheek – to measure our ability to teach to the test.

Bruce says that much of what we can do with the actual data from these sorts of tests is pretty limited. They provide no timely formative information. And rarely is the data actually tied to individual students any way.

So how can the NCSS standards help us re-think assessment?Bruce gave a quick overview of the four elements of the standards:

  • Developing Questions
  • Applying Disciplinary Tools and Concepts
  • Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence
  • Communicating Conclusion and Taking Action

This is the stuff that our kids should be doing. This is historical thinking. The cool thing is that this stuff can be measured. Are kids good at the following things?

  • questioning
  • planning research
  • using tools
  • using evidence
  • evaluating sources
  • communicating
  • taking action

(This is exactly what our Kansas state standards are asking kids to do and what our state assessment will measure. And blatant propaganda alert – these are the sorts of things that my new C4 cards support.)

Bruce suggests that our traditional forms of assessment are not very good at measuring these types of student activities. And that we need a different tool.

I’d say


but it goes deeper than simply doing what we know is good for kids.

Bruce suggests strongly that there are two different cultures that have developed in K-12 education. On one side we have a testing/accountability culture and on the other, a learning/assessment culture. The testing/accountability culture has a strong political foothold in education right now and so it won’t be easy moving to more appropriate assessment types.

But the NCSS standards, its Inquiry Arc, and the research provide a tool we can use to move to a performance-based, inquiry-based, historical thinking type test. There seems to be slow movement towards this.

What are some immediate suggestions for help:

He also pushed his new book – which looks pretty good:

Assessing Historical Thinking and Understanding: Innovative Designs for New Standards


C4 Framework alignment? Good assessment is all about kids communicating what they know and can do.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I give a standardized test every three weeks in toy 8th grade social studies class. There are 30 questions and every one is document based. There is a quote, map, diagram or timeline attached to every question. I give the tests because the state makes the kids take one at the end of the year. What I have found is that the dbqs cause them to have to think about how to answer not just memorize facts and dates. Its not a perfect system but it does require them to think a lot more.

    November 22, 2013
    • glennw #


      You hit it on the head when you it makes them think. That is what we all should be working to achieve!


      November 23, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. #NCSS13 in St. Louis, Missouri | Doing Social Studies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: