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From the AHA Activities column in the January 1998 Perspectives

Criteria for Standards in History/Social Studies/Social Sciences

AHA Staff, January 1998

The Criteria for Standards in History/Social Studies/Social Sciences and the Guidelines for the Preparation, Evaluation, and Selection of History Textbooks were approved by the AHA's Teaching Division at their spring meeting and approved by Council in June. Both documents were sent to the social studies chief state school officer in each state. In Connecticut, 600 social studies teachers read the criteria in the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies Monthly Newsletter.

A large number of states are in the process of defining or redefining standards for student learning in history and related fields. The American Historical Association has reviewed a number of efforts, contributing in several cases to some useful revisions and also confirming the quality of several completed standards statements. As the effort continues, it is clear that a statement of basic criteria for adequacy will be helpful.

The Association recognizes the validity of various specific approaches. It also commends the example of several existing standards to states that are still in the development process. State standards in this curriculum area must of course include appropriate goals for social studies and/or several particular social sciences, in addition to history. Indeed, one mark of satisfactory state standards is the capacity to relate other social science and civics goals to the core standards for history.

In addition, standards relating to history should

  1. Strongly emphasize a number of analytical skills, beyond standard critical-thinking skills. Such skills can be variously stated and must be adapted to different grade levels, but they generally include capacities relating to the interpretation of change and continuity, ability to utilize and assess historical documents, and ability to evaluate different historical interpretations. In world history, comparative skills form a desirable analytical category.
  2. Provide clear emphasis on chronology and periodization. Because historical developments occur in time, the ability to deal with sequences is crucial to historical coherence and to the capacity to assess relationships between past and present. Students should gain from their historical work experience in seeing how various historical developments relate to form historical periods and how changes distinguish one period from the next.
  3. Delineate a balance among various major facets of the human experience in the past. Adequate standards may vary greatly in how they indicate appropriate factual coverage, and in what detail. They should nevertheless indicate the importance of dealing with social, cultural, economic, technological, and political components and with their mutual relationships, and they should define these with clarity to include, for example, religion and science (cultural) and groupings such as race, class, and gender (social). Balance of this sort is vital to linkage between history and learning goals in fields like geography, economics, or literature.
  4. Provide systematic global perspectives in history, so that several major societies (including but not confined to Europe and the United States) and major international trends will be treated over several major time periods. Developing an approach to world history standards that meets this criterion, often by sketching progressive levels of achievement in several different grades, is a challenge that can and must be met.
  5. Build a curriculum sequence in history from the early grades through the high school years. A sequenced series of courses is vital to train in the progressive analytical skills capacities and to provide the necessary experience in chronology/periodization, global perspectives, and topical range.
  6. Include input from practicing historians and history teachers, who can help attune standards to current research findings and best teaching practices in the field.

The American Historical Association recognizes that a number of state standards largely meet these six criteria. Through its Teaching Division and through members of the Association in each state, the Association stands ready to collaborate in the development of future standards in any useful manner.