Criteria for Standards in History/Social Studies/Social Sciences (updated 2019)

Approved  by Council in June 1997; updated January 2019

State departments of education periodically review and revise curriculum frameworks and standards for teaching and learning in history and related fields. In recent years, 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 documents. As the effort continues, the AHA has provided a statement to support school systems, state departments, and other stakeholders during this process.

The AHA recognizes the validity of various specific approaches used to revise curriculum and standards and commends states that are currently in this process or will be undertaking this project in the future. State standards  for our curricula 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 integrate social science, civics, and history across course curricula To this end, standards should include instructional models which promote students' understanding of content and the development of skills that can be applied beyond the context of the course.

Inquiry is a signature aspect of history pedagogy. Using student and teacher generated questions promotes a constructivist approach to learning, rather than a reliance on rote memorization.  Furthermore, inquiry can increase student engagement and invites students to connect the past to contemporary contexts. When developing standards relating to history education, the AHA offers the following guidance:

  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. These generally include capacities relating to interpretation and context, change and continuity, comparison, ability to access,  utilize and assess historical documents, and ability to evaluate different historical perspectives and interpretations.
  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 apply understanding of the past and present. Students should explore historical developments within historical periods and how changes distinguish one period from another.
  3. Standards may vary greatly in how they indicate essential factual coverage including specific events, individuals, groups, and ideas central to the course.  Documents should, however, indicate the importance of developing conceptual understandings of the past. Concepts and conceptual frameworks highlight specific social, cultural, economic, technological and political components and with their mutual relationships. Explaining these approaches, and with clarity to include, for example, religion and science (cultural) and groupings such as race, class and gender (social) is essential.
  4. Provide global perspectives and a broader analytical framework that represents diverse (including but not confined to Europe and the United States), perspectives, contexts, and phenomena in all periods of the course.  By expanding the concept of historical agency to include voices which have been marginalized, students engage with multiple narratives of the past.  This practice supports the development of empathy and other dispositions needed to navigate and interpret the complexities of human interaction.
  5. Build a curriculum sequence in History from the early grades through the high school years. A sequenced series of courses is vital to the development of analytical skills and dispositions, and to provide coherence of the program.
  6. Include input from practicing historians, social studies methods professors, and history teachers, who can help attune standards to current research findings and best teaching practices in the field. Collaboration across the K-16 levels is integral to the articulation of history as a valued discipline and supports professional communication and collaboration.
  7. Students should learn to ask questions about that past that can be applied to contemporary issues. Students should learn to engage in historical inquiry, investigate historical questions, and be given the opportunity to develop such questions themselves. Inquiries that are open-ended, problematize the past, incorporate the consideration of cause and consequence, and allow for different evidence-based interpretations to promote student voice and ownership of learning.
  8. Standards should be explicit regarding the purpose and benefits of studying the past.  Doing so supports teachers and department communication with parents and the school community.  As expressed in the AHA Tuning Project's Discipline Core, outcomes of history courses include the development of active citizenship and an informed populace. 

The American Historical Association recognizes that a number of state standards largely meet these 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.