AHA Activities

AHA Participates in National History Standards Project

AHA Staff, April 1992

The November 1991 issue of Perspectives announced the Association's participation in the development of a conceptual framework for the U.S. Department of Education's 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) U.S. history tests. The Association has now agreed to play a similar role in the National History Standards Project, a very different yet related effort being undertaken by the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education.

The NAEP project is part of a long-term assessment of student performance and achievement. Begun in 1969, NAEP biannually tests samples of students in grades four, eight, and twelve in history and other core subject areas. It monitors national education progress over time and does not at this point report test results at the state, local, school, or individual level. Consequently, while NAEP plays a role in the federal government's long-term educational policymaking, it is not a factor in decision making regarding the allocation of resources and other questions related to individual schools or districts. The Association's primary role in NAEP is to advise on content-related matters, such as central organizing themes, periodization, and the balance of breadth versus depth in coverage. But in giving this advice, the AHA is not endorsing the principle of national assessment per se and remains concerned about the priority currently given to testing in education reform efforts. While we support testing as a useful tool, we are concerned about tendencies to treat it as an end in itself.

In the National History Standards Project, the Association joins seven other organizations in advising the newly established National Council for History Standards on the focus, content priorities, and processes for establishing national achievement standards in both U.S. and world history. This project differs from the NAEP project in many ways. The most important is that it is part of a larger effort to stimulate educational reform by establishing content-based student performance standards on which individual schools and districts can be assessed and to which they can be held accountable. Although initiated by President Bush and the nation's governors and publicized as "America 2000," this reform effort has considerable bipartisan support—all Democratic presidential candidates have endorsed the concept of national standards, despite differences among themselves and with Bush on how those standards are to be achieved. The Association remains uncertain as well about the wisdom of some of the reforms now being discussed, but it has agreed to participate in the UCLA-based project, since the latter focuses on developing content and achievement standards and is not tied directly to the development of a national curriculum or a national test, either mandatory or voluntary.

The AHA has asked members of our NAEP task force (see the November 1991 Perspectives for their names) to address as well the U.S. history component of the UCLA project. For the world history side, we have recruited the following advisors: Peter N. Stearns, Carnegie Mellon University, chair; Robert A. Blackey, California State University, San Bernardino, and AHA Vice President for Teaching; Ross E. Dunn, San Diego State University; Robert Gutierrez, Miami Sunset Senior High School; Colin Palmer, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Howard Spodek, Temple University; Julia Stewart Werner, Nicolet High School (WI); and Judith Zinsser, UN International School.

Given the often tricky politics of education reform today, the AHA Council proceeded cautiously in agreeing to involvement in these two projects. The AHA does not want to become identified with any project that is not in the best interests of history, and in both these cases the Council has reserved the right to withdraw the Association and withhold the use of its name if it concludes that continued participation is problematic. Moreover, the Association's involvement in these two initiatives should not be interpreted as a commitment to any particular reform agenda. The Council simply feels that both projects may have considerable impact on the future of our discipline and that it is in history's best interests for the Association to take part.