Director of curriculum Michael Curtin, social studies department chair Dan Schuchat and Greenville Elementary School principal Jennifer Allen presented the findings of the Tri-State Consortium social studies consultancy at the Edgemont Board of Education meeting on Feb. 11.
The report, which was generated by a visiting team of 15 teachers and administrators from high-performing districts in the tri-state area from Oct. 23 to Oct. 25, 2019, made multiple recommendations to the social studies department and answered three essential questions conceived from a steering committee, which was made up of 11 teachers and administrators from across the district.
“It’s not a deficit model,” said Curtin. “They’re not coming in and saying ‘You need to do this, you’re doing this wrong, you need to change this right away.’ It’s a consortium of high-performing districts who are committed to continuous improvement.”
The assessment model for the consortium is divided into student performance, internal support and external support. Indicators for student performance include performance-based assessment, metacognition in the learning process and student performance data. Indicators for internal support include curriculum and instruction; professional learning, supervision and evaluation; equitable support for student needs; and shared vision and environment for change. The indicator for external support includes parent and community support.
According to the consortium report, the major strengths of the district’s current social studies program are the people who participate in it.
“The teachers are highly qualified, dedicated and capable,” the report said. “They are committed to excellent results and the success of all students.”
At the same time, the consortium wrote that the social studies department needed to “elbow its way to the foreground” at least at the elementary level.
According to the report, the district had expanded initiatives in English, science and math, which meant that elementary teachers were struggling to find time to devote to social studies inside and outside of the classroom.
The report included a parent perspective, which revealed that social studies was lagging the other disciplines in “updating approach, curriculum and purposeful goals” and that parents and students generally expressed support for the program, but that parents in particular had a lack of awareness about the program’s content and academic expectations.
The tri-state team recommended the district define a clear vision for social studies and develop an associated scope and sequence that brings content, practices, concepts and themes into balance.
The consortium also wrote the district could find the right balance between professional autonomy and consistent experiences for students by developing a collaborative K-12 vision for social studies with the active participation of teachers, students and parents at all levels; using common vocabulary and language, identifying the key knowledge, practices, concepts and themes emphasized at each grade level; using student work as a foundation, designing assessment rubrics that focus on the key outcomes at each grade level; providing professional development opportunities that build the faculty’s internal capacity to design and deliver the revised scope and sequence; reviewing how many existing policies and practices might contribute to social studies goals; and communicating the program goals, activities and results to parents.
Edgemont’s steering committee was tasked with providing essential questions for the consortium to answer. The first question asked to what extent the district’s K-12 social studies curriculum was articulated, aligned and consistent.
The consortium wrote that the district delivered a K-12 course of study that conformed to the state’s organization of social studies content, but that the district had not yet undertaken a process for integrating new elements of the state framework into the local curriculum.
The second question focused on what extent the district’s social studies program supported the needs and celebrated the cultural, learning and social-emotional diversity among student population.
The consortium said the district had a deep commitment to the well-being of students and that the social studies program incorporated numerous events and activities related to diversity, especially at the elementary level.
“What tri-state told us was that many of our teachers are able to adjust instruction to meet student needs,” Schuchat said. “This could look like a lot of different things depending on which classroom you’re in, but they saw this all over.”
The consortium also said the district had initiated many efforts to increase awareness and understanding around issues of cultural empathy and implicit bias. The district is in the early stages of implementing a comprehensive program to address social and emotional learning through the CASEL (collaborative for academic, social and emotional learning) framework and is in the process of adopting the Sanford Harmony program, which provides K-6 lessons that promote positive approaches to diversity, inclusion, empathy, critical thinking, communication and problem solving.
The third question asked to what extent the district engaged students in authentic inquiry with primary sources and community resources to support their development as local and global citizens who can think critically, collaborate with one another and problem solve.
The consortium replied that the social studies program had incorporated the inquiry process at several different points, but suggested that attention needed to be paid to consistency of the assessment criteria, rationale, expectations, skills emphasized and vertical planning.
After receiving the feedback from the consortium, the steering committee was tasked with creating an action plan to consolidate and synthesize the feedback given during the October visit and formulate a plan for implementation.
In order to expand collaboration with parents and students and develop a clear K-12 vision, the district will survey students between February and June to find out what they value in social studies, allow teachers to build upon the kids’ foundation and provide opportunities for teachers to explore and learn new framework and standards.
In order to develop a K-12 scope and sequence that identifies key knowledge, skills and themes at each grade level, the district will document and scribe the current scope and sequence of the social studies curriculum between June of this year and August of next year, bring K-12 teachers together for a half day to prep, develop common criteria and rubrics to assess the identified knowledge and skills, and revise curriculum to align with the revised state framework as needed.
Between September of this year and June of next year, in order to provide professional learning for all social studies teachers and focus on authentic inquiry and implementing the new state social studies framework, the district will find out what authentic inquiry might look like at each level, consider how to best provide professional learning that helps teachers connect inquiry skills across content areas in K-6, consider engaging faculty in discussions about how ongoing professional learning can systematically support instructional shifts from the new state framework and consider participating regularly in regional professional networks for social studies.
The district has already been reviewing the criteria for student access to high level courses in the high school and is considering offering AP world history in lieu of or in addition to AP European history. The district will also consider making global perspectives a default 10th grade course and will find ways to ease transition between ninth and 10th grade, where courses are grouped by performance levels.