Will there be a test?
by Nancy McTygue
“Yes, but what about testing in history-social science?” This is the question I hear again and again from teachers, generally after we talk about the new HSS Framework. This is especially true for those teachers who entered the profession in the last 10-15 years; educators who came of age in the era of the now defunct assessment and accountability acronyms: CST, STAR, AYP, and API. We have Smarter Balanced tests in ELA and Mathematics and soon, a new science test. When will we have a test in history-social science and what will it mean for our discipline in the interim?
Let me first be clear – I don’t work or speak for the Department of Education, the State Board of Education, or the California Teachers’ Association. What follows, then, is my best estimation of where the conversation is headed in Sacramento, based on multiple meetings with state leaders, extensive reading, and for lack of a better word, gut feelings. Put simply, I don’t think there will be a new test in history-social science for the foreseeable future. Here’s my evidence:
- The primacy of local control. The end of categorical funding in California began in 2013, with the passage of AB97, SB91, and SB97, which established what we now know as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). LCFF enshrines Governor Jerry Brown’s preference for subsidiarity – a principle of Catholic thought that argues against centralization and for decision-making power at the local level. Applying this principle to California’s educational system has meant sharp reduction in state administered testing (current plans call for state testing only in E/LA, mathematics, and science). Instead, local schools and districts are encouraged to develop and implement their own evaluation plans to assess student learning in all other subjects.
- District LCAPs often reflect little interest in history-social science. To receive LCFF funds, districts must document their plans for meeting the eight LCFF priorities that the State Board identified in their Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP). These 8 priorities include topics that include student learning in history-social science (Priority #2 for example, asks districts to assess implementation of state standards in all content areas, including history-social science). That said, the LCAPs I’ve reviewed (and I grant you, this is not a comprehensive list), almost never mention history-social science, much less include specific financial allocations to support instruction in the HSS disciplines. In the LCFF paradigm, the LCAP, more than any other public document, telegraphs a district’s focus, priority, and goals. If the document doesn’t even mention history-social science, the district leaders likely aren’t interested in assessing student learning in it in a substantive or comprehensive way.
- No one has allocated any money specifically for HSS testing. LCFF established base funding for schools and districts across California, with additional funds allocated to schools with large numbers of English learners, foster youth, and low income students. LCFF doesn’t preclude the development of HSS tests at any level (state or local), but without a mandate to support testing in history and the related social sciences, its seems unlikely that educational leaders at any level will allocate any funds for it.
- Testing, as an educational activity, isn’t popular. It’s hard to find any political or educational leaders willing to publicly support more tests for students. In a speech before the Democratic party convention (and reported in EdSource) in 2014, for example, Governor Brown argued against testing in schools, noting that, “students already have tests coming out of their ears.” He went on to say that, “… the genius of each child is not how they bubble in an A, B, C and D.” Brown is not alone in his reluctance to support additional testing: the California Teachers Association website links to a National Education Association page with an online petition calling for the end of standardized testing. Last spring, Superintendent Torlakson did release a draft plan to potentially administer three summative tests in history-social science, but it didn’t receive a warm reception at the State Board. Without support from the Governor, the State Board, and the teachers’ union, it’s hard to imagine an expansion of the current testing system.
So what does that mean for the future of the discipline? Will we continue the road to marginalization that started under the previous accountability system? Should we believe the old adage of what is tested is what is taught? Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not that worried. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t see the lack of testing as the death knell of history-social science. In a future blog, I’ll detail why I still am optimistic, but let me leave you with one last question for you to consider: Standardized testing in history-social science ended in 2013. Has support for your discipline really changed in the last three years? If so, how?