California Academic Standards Commission Develops Standards for History-Social Science

Amy Smith Bell, May 1998

A California commission on academic standards for K–12 students recently began work on the history curriculum and pledged to include input from historians at all levels. The Academic Standards Commission was established by the California legislature in 1995 and charged with the "central responsibilityŠto develop academically rigorous content and performance standards to be used in public schools maintaining kindergarten and grades 1 through 12."1 According to the commission's chair, the standards will "reflect knowledge and skills necessary for California's work force to be competitive in the global, information-based economy of the 21st century."

The commission initially focused on creating standards in language arts and mathematics. However, last fall the commission, now divided into two committees, began developing history-social science standards. Of the 21 commissioners, none is a historian; the group is primarily made up of education administrators and consultants, public policy coordinators, and science teachers.

The history-social science committee consists of Robert Calfee, Judy B. Codding, Judith A. Panton, Raymund A. Paredes, Alice S. Petrossian, Kate Simpson, Lawrence J. Siskind, and La Tanya G. Wright.2 Consultants Susan Pimentel and Ellen Clark also staff the committee. According to Paredes, the commission hired Pimentel "to draft standards for us, based on models available around the country, including the national standards." At the committee's first meeting, Pimentel was directed to "determine the 'best of the best' resources; compare the curricular structure of state documents; compare the document format of state documents; determine the controversial issues; provide definitions of content standards, performance standards, and curriculum frameworks; [and] provide a list of experts (including their specific area of expertise) that may serve as speakers-reviewers."

Given the lack of history academics and history teachers on the commission, there are some concerns in the field about the emerging standards. "Clearly, the historical profession has not been well represented thus far in the standards process," said Edward Berenson, former head of the California History-Social Science Project and professor of history and chair of general education at UCLA. But Paredes, associate vice chancellor and professor of English at UCLA, said that "the commission is dealing with this situation by sending all our draft standards to consultants in the field Š and reps of some of the K–12 professional organizations in history." Ellen F. Wright, chair of the commission and an education consultant, echoed this commitment in a recent Internet update: "We believe the commission must seek the widest possible input from higher education and specialists from the K–12 level." The minutes from the history-social science committee's January meeting reiterated that "experts that have worked on the national documents in the various disciplines are available to make sure that all of the necessary content is included in the document."

In a telephone interview, Clark, a consultant to the history-social science committee, detailed the committee's review procedures for the emerging standards. First, Pimentel, senior standards adviser on the commission, has worked with four in-house reviewers who have each previously worked in various capacities on creating national standards: Charles Bahmueller (Center for Civic Education), Jim Charkins (California State University at San Bernardino), Roger Downs (Penn State), and Paul Gagnon (Boston University). In addition, said Clark, the committee has conducted nine focus groups throughout the state—including teachers, administrators, parents, and community business leaders.

At press time, three preliminary drafts had been written, but the official first draft of history-social science standards was expected to be approved by the commission on April 1. Finally, this first draft and a second draft (expected to be available in June) will be reviewed by about 60 people, each with specific areas of expertise. This list of reviewers was compiled with input from commissioners, the California Department of Education, various state and national organizations, and coordinators from California public schools, Clark said.

Although there is no formal relationship between the commission's emerging standards and the 10-year-old California History-Social Science Framework, Paredes said that "the standards being developed will be consistent with the state frameworks." According to the minutes from the commission, last year the commission sent a survey to all California school districts inquiring about the standards already in place for history and social science, and the returned surveys indicated "overwhelming support" for the framework. Thus, according to Wright, the preliminary draft document relies on the framework and "benchmarks to the Virginia, Massachusetts, and NAEP Civics Framework." Berenson, who has agreed to review the preliminary draft for the committee, said, "What we need to avoid at all costs is producing a standards document that diverges substantially from the framework. Teachers have been using the framework for 10 years now. They're used to it, and though it's far from a perfect document, it works pretty well."

The commission says it also invites the public's comments on the draft standards. "By California law," continued Commissioner Paredes, "all of the deliberations are public and open to public input." In an Internet update, Chair Wright further emphasized this point: "A hallmark for our process for developing standards has been and will continue to be public input." The commission will hold four public hearings from April 28–May 1, 1998, to hear reaction to and gather testimony on the first draft of the commission's history-social science performance and content standards. The latest draft standards (as well as dates and locations of the forthcoming public hearings) are available on the commission's web site.

The commission will submit its recommended history-social science standards to the California State Board of Education in August 1998.

Notes

1. The Academic Standards Commission has its own web site at http://www.ca.gov/goldstandards.

2. Biographies of the 21 commissioners are available on the commission's web site.