Wednesday, July 12, 2017

State’s Decision to Eliminate Exams Continues Marginalization of History and Civics Education

In order to sustain the health and vibrancy of our democracy youth must learn about, and be ready to take part in, the U.S. democratic and governance process. This is especially true in an increasingly partisan and politically fractured country. At the heart of the social studies is preparing all youth to emerge as informed and active citizens to undertake our nation’s highest and most mightiest office, that of “Office of Citizen”. Through a strong and meaningful social studies curriculum students learn about our state, nation, and world’s rich diversity, its history, and the many obligations and responsibilities that come with citizenship. Students analyze primary sources in order to grapple with complexity, use evidence to substantiate conclusions, and learn to take informed actions to improve our communities and world.  The social studies provides students with experiences investigate, contextualizing, and thinking through information sources of data, and these skills are paramount in an age of fake news, native advertising, and mounting propaganda. At the forefront of the social studies is empowering youth with curricular experiences that advance the art of deliberation, conversation, and statesmanship when interacting with the views of diverse citizens holding likeminded and dissimilar views.

Knowing that today’s increasingly partisan, multicultural, and technological age demands engaged and informed citizens ready and capable of sustaining our nation’s democracy, I was most disappointed that the state legislature and our governor decided in the recently passed budget bill to eliminate all required state elementary and middle school social studies exams. After all, only 70% of Cuyahoga County voters cast ballots in the 2016 president election (a letter grade of a D), while only 46% of 18-29 year olds showed up (F letter grade). Mandated state assessments in science, math, and language arts went unscathed and unaffected in this bill. Research indicates our current system of testing results in some subjects that “win” and others that “lose”. Subjects not tested often suffer from decreased instructional time, resources, priority, and staffing (Ravitch, 2010). Lawmakers did include in the same budget bill a very weak provision for schools to teach and assess social studies in grades four and six. However, there is no minimum instruction time specified, nor is there a state mechanism in place to ensure this is happening, as the law forbids schools from reporting any social studies assessment data to the Ohio Department of Education.

Unfortunately, our state’s decision to exclude and defund these elementary and middle grades social studies assessments are but one more example of a national trend of states disinvesting in history and civic education. Claus von Zastrow and Helen Janc, in a 2004 study, interviewed 956 elementary principals from four different states and found that almost half of all principals disclosed time devoted to social studies had moderately or greatly decreased due to it not being a tested subject, while the time spent on tested subjects had increased. In Ohio, local researchers found that time spent teaching social studies increased when state-mandated testing were re-introduced introduced (Doppen, Misco, & Patterson, 2008).

Image result for student exam ohio online

The frustration I share with hundreds of Ohio teachers is that social studies, again, has been disproportionally affected and marginalized when compared with other core subjects in the state. Like many families I believe Pk-12 students and educators are over tested in Ohio, which is a product of misguided school district, state, and federal policy. Reforms are needed at all levels to ensure students receive strong and robust learning experiences in all content areas. Instead of wasting millions of tax payer dollars on shoddy state tests in a few cherry picked subjects, meaningful investments should be made that yield greater results for student leaning; such as recruiting, preparing, and supporting high quality teachers, breaking down barriers that lay in their way, and restoring our trust in educators so they have the freedom and flexibility to plan and deliver high quality instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners. Instead of state lawmakers selecting winners and losers, and throwing band aids on a broken assessment system, Ohio should be at the forefront leading our nation to construct homegrown competency and performance-based assessments that model a meaningful and holistic assessment system that prepares all students for college, career, and civic life.


Doppen, F., Misco, T., & Patterson, N. (2008). The state of k-12 social studies instruction in Ohio. Social Studies Research and Practice, 3(3), 1-25.

Ravitch, D. (2010). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. New York, NY: Basic Books.

von Zastrow, C. and Janc, H. (2004). Academic atrophy: The condition of the liberal arts in America’s Public Schools. Council for Basic Education. Retrieved from

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.