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Purpose of this work

The following process was used to identify standards and benchmarks for history:

Identification of Significant Reports

Ten reports were determined to be appropriate for identifying significant history subject matter for K–12 schooling. Four reports originate from the National Center for History in the Schools (NCHS) History Standards Project: National Standards for History for Grades K–4: Expanding Children's World in Time and Space (1994a), National Standards for United States History: Exploring the American Experience (1994b), National Standards for World History: Exploring Paths to the Present (1994c), and National Standards for History (1996). In addition, NCHS has also published a history survey, Lessons From History: Essential Understandings and Historical Perspectives Students Should Acquire (Crabtree, Nash, Gagnon, & Waugh, 1992). Two other significant documents are the Provisional Item Specifications for the 1994 NAEP in U.S. History (NAEP, n.d.) and Historical Literacy: The Case for History in American Education (Gagnon & Bradley Commission on History in the Schools, 1988). Also useful were documents from the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (1994) and from the International Baccalaureate Organization, History (1996h) and the Middle Years Programme: Humanities (1995c).

Selection of the Reference Document

The NCHS national standards documents were selected as reference documents for world, United States, and K­4 history. The national standards documents were selected because they represent the efforts of a diverse group of historians from schools and universities. In addition, these documents provide a consistent level of detailed information for writing benchmarks by grade range (K­4 history supplies information for grades K–2 and K–4; United States and world history cover grades 5–6, 7–8, and 9–12). Such grade information is not within the scope of a work like Lessons from History, which deals primarily with what students should know by the end of their schooling, nor the material available from NAEP, which does not address world history. The NCHS documents were also used as the reference for standards in Historical Understanding, discussed below.

Identification of Standards and Benchmarks

Historical Understanding

In addition to the identification of the facts, events, and episodes of history, the history standards documents also address the following standards under the heading of Historical Thinking: (1) chronological thinking, (2) historical comprehension, (3) historical analysis and interpretation, (4) historical research capabilities and (5) historical issues-analyses and decision-making. These standards consist of 4 to 10 statements each. Our analysis showed that much of this material described general thinking and reasoning abilities or information processing abilities that could be applied to a variety of subject matter, and were not exclusive to history. In accord with our model, this material was integrated into the appropriate standards on thinking and reasoning (see Life Skills). Two areas, however, appeared to be uniquely related to the study of history, and appear as standards under the category of Historical Understanding: the first treats chronological relationships and patterns, and the second addresses the historical perspective. Historical Literacy provided supporting material for the historical perspective standard.

World and U.S. History

As noted in History of the Standards, the basic edition of the national history standards, National Standards for History, has recently been published. Material from the basic edition has been incorporated into this report, which itself is based on the earlier NCHS expanded editions of National Standards for U.S. History and National Standards for World History. Thus, both the expanded and basic NCHS editions were used to construct standards and benchmarks. This approach was taken in order to meet the requirements of our model for standards, which seeks to conserve information regarding the appropriate grade level of material wherever that is possible. This grade level information was available in the expanded editions, but not conserved in the basic edition. That is, the expanded editions identified material suitable for grades 5–6, 7–8, and 9–12, while the basic edition identified only material at 5–12, 7–12, and 9–12. Although both editions are combined in this report, it is possible for the reader to discern what benchmark information was drawn from which edition, as well as what benchmark information was found to be common in both editions. For an explanation, see the section below, "How to identify edition sources. "

In order to understand the method used to render material from the expanded editions it is useful to provide a brief description of their structure. There are five levels of organization in the U.S. and world history documents from NCHS. The outermost level is a grouping by historical era. Each era, in turn, is comprised of two to four standards. Beneath the standard level are three other levels, the lowest of which is a description of student achievements that might exemplify attainment of the standard. It is only at this level, "examples of student achievement," that specific content is identified for grades 5–6, 7–8 and 9–12. The intervening levels, that is, the levels between the student achievement descriptions and the standard levels, can be conveniently viewed as topic organizers that serve to provide context.

In order to compose benchmarks, we analyzed the material at all organizational levels. These levels were then combined in such a way that grade level information was conserved as well as the context or topic within which this information was found. To take an example from the expanded edition, the following are tasks, or "examples of student achievement," at grades 9–12 of the National Standards for World History:

Read selections from the philosopher Zhu Xi's conversations with his followers and from the Schedule for Learning, and discuss the basic ideas of Neo-Confucianism. Analyze how these ideas affected Chinese society, government, and education

Read the instructions Zhu Xi gave on rites for honoring ancestors in his Family Rituals, and discuss the relationship between popular rites and Zhu Xi's Neo-Confucian philosophy

Research how economic changes in China affected society. How mobile was the gentry class? (p. 133)

These activities are related to the topic headings "...the major dynastic transition China experienced and the changes in Confucianism in the 10th and 13th centuries" and "...the growth of an economically powerful merchant class in China." The headings, in turn, are subsumed under a section beginning "Students should be able to demonstrate understanding of China's extensive urbanization and commercial expansion between the 10th and 13th century..." Taking this information into account, the following single benchmark was developed to cover the activities cited above at grades 9–12:

  • Understands significant religious and economic aspects of Chinese society between the 10th and 13th centuries (e.g., the impact of economic growth on Chinese society and how it affected the gentry class; how Zhu Xi's basic ideas of Neo-Confucianism affected Chinese society, government, and education)

In one sense, the "stuff" of history -- the defining facts, events, and episodes -- is not amenable to such presentation by developmental levels; and aside from the advantages of introducing information in a chronological sequence, we have not discovered other arguments or research on how this kind of material might be benchmarked. As noted in Lessons From History, however, "Historical knowledge must go beyond the factual knowledge implicit in these lists -- important though that knowledge is -- to the explanations of the causes and consequences of these events and the interpretations which can be drawn concerning their enduring significance" (p. 48). What varies from grade level to grade level in the expanded editions of the standards documents from NCHS is the sophistication of the "examples of student achievement." These activities are somewhat problematic, in that they mix curriculum and performance with content standards. Additionally, these activities were criticized by a panel convened by the Council for Basic Education (see "History") "for undermining principles of scholarship by asking leading questions or by inviting students to make easy moral judgments about historical questions that continue to be debated by scholars" ("Review panels," CBE, October 1995). Our analysis of these activities solely for content, however, did indicate some level of distinction between grades, for generally speaking, it was often possible to discern between grade levels a difference in the level of detail and depth of understanding demanded from students. Thus, when the activities of the expanded editions were examined solely for their content, and the specific and controversial task requirements were removed, they were found to provide useful information for the composition of benchmarks at a narrower range of grades than was available from the basic edition.

K–4 History

A similar, though somewhat simpler, content structure was found in the expanded edition of the National Standards for History for Grades K–4, as was found in the U.S. and world history documents, and the kind of analysis described above was applied to that document to generate the standards and benchmarks at the levels K–2 and 3–4.

Integration of Information from Other Documents

Historical Understanding

For material addressing the topics related to chronology and the historical perspective, a number of supporting documents were found to be useful. Primary among them was Historical Literacy. The Curriculum Standards document from NCSS also addresses these topics in the curriculum standard "Time, Continuity, & Change," and was used to provide supplementary citations. The International Baccalaureate Organization addresses closely related subjects in History (1996h) and the Middle Years Programme: Humanities (1995c) and these documents are cited in the benchmarks wherever appropriate.

World and U.S. History

The U.S. history standards include citations from NAEP's Provisional Item Specifications for the 1994 NAEP in U.S. History. The survey work from NCHS, Lessons from History, was also used to provide supplementary citations for both world and U.S. history.

A Note on the Number of History Standards

The number of standards identified for history in this document might at first appear formidable. However, when considered in terms of how these standards are designed for use, the number of standards in U.S. or world history is more closely comparable to the number of standards found in other subject areas. In history, unlike other areas, each set of benchmarks (at grades 5–6, 7–8, and 9–12) is designed to provide a full description of that standard; in other words, as is the case in most schooling now, material for one historical era is unlikely to be repeated at a different level of schooling. Once a standard is met at a particular grade level, the student is no longer required to meet it.

As an example, if a school or district should decide to teach the era on "Civil War and Reconstruction" at the 7–8 grade levels, the standards and benchmarks under that era would not be addressed again at 9–12. It is assumed, however, that the students would be familiar with benchmark material from the lower grade levels. For other subject-area standards in this report, by contrast, if a standard has benchmarks listed at more than one grade level, it indicates that the student is expected to meet benchmarks in the other grade levels listed.

Thus, as a hypothetical example, if the standards were implemented fairly evenly across grade levels, each student studying U.S. history would not be responsible for more than 10 standards (31 standards by the 3 years of study recommended by NCHS) at any one time. In world history, the design is only a little more complicated and results in greater flexibility. In addition to the design for implementation found in U.S. history, the authors of the expanded edition of world history have identified material as "core" or "related." Core material is deemed essential for a grounding in world history; "related" material is important, but not critical, and can be omitted if necessary. In this report, each benchmark in world history is designated as either "core" (C) or "related" (R). However, benchmarks that are found only in the NCHS basic edition do not have "core" or "related" designations.