Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What's Up With Social Studies In New York City?

The New York Times has the awful news that 80 percent of the City's 8th graders haven't learned their social studies:

More than 80 percent of New York City's eighth graders failed to meet state standards in social studies last year, a decline of nearly 20 percentage points since 2002, school officials acknowledged yesterday at a hearing of the City Council Education Committee.

But while the state and the city have suffered similar declines, the city's scores are substantially lower than the state's as a whole. Last year, 18.61 percent of the city's eighth graders met social studies standards, compared with 43.78 percent of eighth graders statewide.

New York State administers social studies exams in fifth and eighth grades, but officials said the results get little scrutiny because they are not among the criteria used to determine if schools are performing adequately, either under state regulations or the federal No Child Left Behind law.

"The truth is we do not use it as a measure of accountability," said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Education.

Last year, more than 55 percent of the city's fifth graders were proficient on the social studies exam, compared with nearly 75 percent of fifth graders statewide. But the fifth-grade performance was also substantially worse than in 2001-2002, when nearly 65 percent of city students and nearly 88 percent of students statewide were proficient.

Mayor Bloomberg's political opponent's haven't wasted any time saying that the decline is a reflection of the Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein's inability to address serious problems confronting the city's schools.

As a history teacher that practices in California, I can affirm that (at least in our mid-sized district) many primary grade teachers have abandoned the teaching of history altogether. The reason is simple. As with the teachers in New York City, our federally-mandated tests only measure students' proficiency in reading and math.

I believe that this is probably typical of many districts around the country.

Students need History. And in many cases that need is not being met.

Additional Commentary: Number 2 Pencil (from a different source and with a sample test question)
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