Less classroom time spent on social studies as focus turns to subjects included in NCLB testing

iStock_000014316766XSmallSocial studies teachers are envied by some of their peers because they are left out of the testing and accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind. But a report in Educational Measurement: Issues and Practices suggests that the omission has negative consequences. The biggest: Less time spent on social studies curriculum and more time for subjects that are tested.

While NCLB recognizes social studies, history, geography, civics and government as core subjects, the legislation does not require that states test students on social studies although it requires testing and accountability on the other core subjects, reading, math and science.

Researchers from Mississippi State University, Appalachia State University and the University of Texas collected and analyzed data from 34 social studies teachers in three states regarding the impact that being left out of NCLB has had on the teaching of social studies. The educators were from an elementary school in North Carolina, a middle school in Texas and a high school in Mississippi. The researchers collected responses in focus groups, surveys or individual interviews.

Social studies is merged with reading

Elementary school teachers in North Carolina said they averaged only 30 minutes a week on social studies instruction, and many said they merged social studies with reading instruction. Middle school teachers in Texas reported that students arrived in their classrooms with little knowledge of the subject, and high school teachers in Mississippi, which requires state testing on social studies in high school, also expressed concern that students in the lower grades are not being adequately exposed to the subject.

Another concern raised by teachers was that social studies was being devalued as greater emphasis was placed on reading, math and science. “The majority sentiment expressed was that not including social studies sends the message that learning about social studies is not as valued as learning about mathematics, reading, and science,” the researchers write. “One high school teacher said, ‘It is as though they are telling the teachers that your subject is not important.'”

Educators believed the impact could eventually be felt in the larger community as schools could potentially fail to produce good citizens because of shrinking time and attention on social studies.

Social studies teachers do not miss the stress and pressures that the assessments place on them and their students and the narrow emphasis in the classroom on preparing students for the material and skills that are covered in the tests, but they do miss the attention that NCLB brings to high-priority subjects.

“They decried the impact of standardized testing,” the study says, “yet they recognized that attention to the content they value in the social studies is not given when the subject is not emphasized in federal or state assessments.”

While social studies teachers are unhappy about some the consequences of being left out of NCLB, they are reluctant to advocate for its inclusion, believing, as many educators do, that the costs would outweigh the benefits.

“Social Studies Education in the Age of Testing and Accountability”, Educational Measurement: Issues and Practices, Volume 24, Number 3, Fall 2005, pp. 13-19.

Published in ERN November/December 2005 Volume 18 Number 9

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