Social studies tests in Ohio: gone for now

Ohio has decided to drop its social studies tests in grades 5 and 8 in order to save money. The State of Ohio Education blog comments:

It must be okay to eliminate these tests because Ohio students have generally mastered social studies content. Wait a minute. That’s not right. Ohio test results from grades five and eight social studies assessments are among the lowest of the more than two dozen state achievement indicators.

I guess Ohio found an effective (and cost efficient) way to address unacceptably low student achievement and eliminate the achievement gap: stopping administering tests.

One reader, Paula, responds:

For a point of reference, what is the legal definition (in Ohio) of the term “social studies”? I’ve always had an aversion to the term, much preferring that we focus on history. The Wikipedia definition, (which they apparently lifted from the National Council for the Social Studies) defines it as:

At the elementary school level, social studies generally focuses first on the local community and family. By middle and high school, the social studies curriculum becomes more discipline-based and content-specific. It includes various fields which involve past and current human behavior and interactions, such as sociology, history, political science, economics, religion, geography, and anthropology.

If that’s what HB1 is giving the axe to, I say go for it. If they’re truly eliminating some meaningful HISTORY standards, that might be a different story.

If children were actually learning history and being tested on their historical knowledge, then Ohio’s move does signal a loss. Is it optimistic to see if that way? If so, Jamie Davies O’Leary at Flypaper numbers among the optimists:

While the trimming down of standardized tests has everything to do with the budget crisis facing Ohio, we can’t help but wonder not only when the state will decide to reinstall the tests, but whether our students are being equipped to understand the historical magnitude and economical underpinnings of the recession-the alleged reason the tests were removed in the first place.

Like Paula, I vastly prefer history to social studies, but unlike her, I do not say good riddance to the tests. Whether or not students have been learning much history or civics in social studies, the elimination of the tests most likely means they will be learning less.


  1. Barry Garelick says:

    I had social studies in 1956-57, using the textbook Someday Soon by Paul Hanna. We had true-false tests in class with questions like “The fireman is my friend.” I always thought social studies was a weird discipline because of my second grade experience.

  2. It’s “Jamie” not James. Thanks!

  3. Democratic States (governments, generally) have a serious conflict of interest when they provide History or Civics instruction. State provision of History or Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers or broadcase media would be (are, in totalitarian countries).

  4. Diana Senechal says:

    My apologies, Jamie! I just made the correction.

  5. When, oh, when will our education leaders see that teaching history is one of the best ways to boost reading ability? As I tell my students’ parents, history is not a collection of dusty, useless facts, history is EVERYTHING: economics, geography, geology, psychology, agriculture, food, animal breeding, the arts, politics, science, religion, technology… It’s the story of Earth and the things on it. In my seventh grade world history class we talk about how chihuahuas can be bred from wolves, why crops’ roots require air and so cannot be grown in swamps, why English contains a lot of Latin but not Chinese or Russian, diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies, etc. Thus history is the ultimate font of vocabulary and concepts that enable a child to read about anything that takes place on Earth –in other words, most texts. Reading ability is a function of general knowledge, not, as the ed school establishment would have it, a set of all-purpose reading “skills”. This plausible-seeming view is false. No “skills” in the world will enable a kid to comprehend an article about cricket if he doesn’t know anything about it. On the other hand, a kid who knows cricket well will comprehend the article without any training in so-called reading skills such as “using context clues”.

    If you don’t see what I’m talking about, please read E.D. Hirsch’s The Making of Americans, the most important book about education ever (and the source of most of my arguments here).

  6. I think it would be fun to put Hirsch and Gatto in a room together and see which came out alive.

    Fantasies aside, I agree that History is important and dearly, dearly wish that the S.S. department would put down the blessed DVD player and pick up a book now and then.

  7. It seems to me that “history”, like “chemistry” or “algebra”, should not be capitalized. Perhaps I’m wrong.

  8. Oh, you’re right. Mea culpa.

  9. Capitalize the names of courses. One mush know the history of the US to teach US History. That’s what my English teachers taught, anyway.

  10. I think it would be fun to put Hirsch and Gatto in a room together and see which came out alive.


  11. Ponderosa; you’re spot on regarding cricket. Those who don’t believe it should read the account of Lord Peter Wimsey’s cricket match in Dorothy Sayer’s Murder Must Advertise. Being somewhat familiar with the overall game and its terminology, and understanding baseball, I can follow some of the action, but I can’t really visualize the game because I’ve never seen one.

    The real rigor and content of the disciplines started to decline when geography, history, civics etc were combined into social studies. It seemed to be the trigger that accelerated the watering-down process.

  12. I detest the entire concept of social studies. Teach them HISTORY! So many people think they hate history because they were never taught real history. They were taught “social studies.” History is interesting! It’s the story of the world, and it’s the most interesting story of all, because it really happened. Social studies is boring.

  13. momof4…”The real rigor and content of the disciplines started to decline when geography, history, civics etc were combined into social studies”…I think many of the people who run our k-12 schools are actually quite anti-intellectual and cannot imagine anyone actually being *interested* in any substantive discipline…so they figure they will make them more interesting by hooking a bunch of them together.

  14. MK,

    I’m curious. Do you think there’s more of a conflict of interest with states offering history instruction than with states offering language instruction? It seems to me that both require equal amounts of oversight by citizens.

  15. tee hee hee. I just love it that this discussion has been sparked by the elimination of the state tests for two years (which has doubtless saved some jobs at the school level). After all: “With dumbed-down tests, vapid literacy programs, an overwhelming focus on test prep at the exclusion of essential subjects, and unreliable rating systems, we end up taking a yardstick to a void–and declaring miracles whenever we please.”

    How on earth could anyone think that the two year hiatus of exams would effect what is being taught in any way that is harmful?

  16. Diana Senechal says:


    Nothing here contradicts what I said before about dumbed-down tests. Sadly, schools focus on the subjects that are tested. That is where the resources go.

    It is highly unlikely that the elimination of the social studies tests (vapid as they may be) will result in a flourishing history curriculum.

    Diana Senechal

  17. timfromtexas says:

    It’s interesting that the adults argue over and over about all aspects of everything educational ad infinitum. Make up your minds. Then teach it. Without a determined curriculum you don’t know what you are teaching, and they don’t what they are learning.

    A set curriculum k-12 is absolutely essential. This will eliminate the classroom fiefdom that teachers are masochistically enduring now.
    Without a set curriculum there is no accountability.

  18. I just can’t get over the fact that politicians, supposedly civic leaders, would deem it appropriate to eliminate civics. Perhaps it’s better to conduct nation building experiments in other nations than it is to do so in our own country. They might think so. I definitely disagree.


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