C3 Standards: Writing Proficiency Scales

Our department has adopted and prioritized the C3 standards. One of the things I like the most about the C3 standards is their foundation in Inquiry processes that support each of the four disciplines. One issue I still go back and forth on is to what extent a foundation 9/10 course needs to have standards prioritized from each discipline, geography, history, civics, and economics. Regardless, I am looking forward to diving into them with the purpose of eventually assessing them as part of a standards-based system.

We have started creating proficiency scales for each prioritized standard. The standards in the History strand are similar enough to other historical thinking standards that writing the proficiency scales for them is not a huge challenge. However, the standards for the geography, civics, and economics strands are a bit harder. This year is the first that I have taught an explicit geography course, and even though the curriculum is becoming less Human Geo more Global Studies next year, it’s a challenge. All the C3 standards are “skill” standards, but it is going to take collaboration with people who have more content depth in those subjects to hammer out a final draft. I am not sure if there are proficiency scales already in existence for C3 standards; in this case I don’t mind “reinventing the wheel” because there is a tremendous amount of learning and insight that comes out of it.

Below are some draft proficiency scales, minus the Score 2.0 vocabulary section. The act of writing these forces some good discussions about the meaning of individual standards, and especially, the subtle differences between standards that seem similar at first glance. An inevitable part of the discussion also turns towards logistics of how the standards will actually be used. A challenge can be finding balance between the “spirit” of the standards, perspectives on prioritization, and the realities and limits of time and resources. The C3 Framework is attached below in its entirety.


C3 Standard 1 for History is contextualization. (Standard is on the right) The phrasing of the standard clearly suggests to me that it is referring to “Big C” contextualization, that is, contextualizing events, developments, and other historical trends as opposed to contextualizing primary sources. However, separating contextualization into different standards for “Big C” and “Little C” can pose a challenge for both teachers and students when it comes time for assessment and showing how historical thinking skills are inextricably linked.

One thing I have learned from standards-based grading is that sometimes, if a standard is too specific it can be difficult to assess multiple times in isolation. Likewise, when standards are incredibly specific, it can lead to prioritizing too many standards for a course or unit than can be reasonably assessed three to four times over a semester. Both of these are logistical problems as opposed to a philosophical stance.

C3 does include a standard specifically for contextualizing and sourcing primary source documents; It is included in their “Historical Sources and Evidence” strand. However that standard is written a little differently. In it, the sourcing is used to critique the usefulness of the source instead of for analyzing the source; a small but subtle difference (see the exact wording on the right).

We made the choice to include all types of contextualization within this standard to keep assessment simple. Ultimately, when we teach sourcing and contextualization of primary sources, we are doing it with the purpose of analysis and argumentation. The other C3 standard read to me as more about source selection within the research process. Maybe I’m over thinking it? Sometimes it would be nice to speak with people who write the standards to try and understand the “spirit” in which they intended each of them to be interpreted. This is not to say that the other standard, as written, is not important. We merely have to determine what we think is most important. In this specific example, our National History Day program covers this standard and many of the others we did not prioritize for assessment in class. Teaching but not assessing is a viable option.

Continuity & Change over Time

The wording of this standard is very straight forward and simple, but requires a lot of unpacking. To do this, I used the CCOT guideposts from the book The Big Six as well as the sub-standards for Chronological Thinking from the National Center for History in Schools.

The skill of CCOT is quite large and encompasses many processes, some foundational, some tangential. This is an easy “Big Tent” standard to prioritize and is easy to teach and assess throughout the year with a variety of content. We did not perseverate over this standard as much as contextualization.

Geographic Data & Spatial Patterns

Here is where things start getting new for me. The C3 standards for geography seem to be organized in a way that makes sense. The first strand is titled “Geographic Representations: Spatial Views of the World.” We had some trouble teasing out the subtle differences between the three standards within this strand. They are shown below.

The difficulty came from envisioning how to teach and assess them and what that would actually look like. Standard 3 was ultimately prioritized for our 9th grade course, which is heavily oriented towards geography. I expect that standard 2 will still be taught, but will be assessed as part of standard 3. These two standards seem very similar to me; maybe as I begin teaching them I will gain some insight into their differences. Standard 1 became the inspiration for Score 4.0 possibility. Asking students to actually create the representations they would otherwise view and observe seemed like a great extension. My first attempt at a proficiency scale is below. I look forward to refining it as I get used to using the C3 geography standards.

The process of developing curriculum is exciting. Alongside this work, we were also able to redesign our 9th grade course. It had previously been a nearly identical version of AP Human, but felt oddly out of place for a non-AP foundational course. It has shifted to a Global and Cultural Studies course that is still mostly geography, but has some influence of history and economics. It also aligns more easily with National History Day, a fantastic program that all 9th and 10th graders take part in to put their historical thinking skills into practice.

Although curriculum design or redesign can’t and should’t happen too often, it is empowering to be part of the process that shapes it for the future. Many teachers don’t bother with thinking about curriculum; when I was a public school teacher I just took what was handed to me by the district. However, I think it is important that teachers are part of the process of shaping what they will be teaching and how their courses align with other courses across grade levels as well as the overarching vision and outcomes of the school.

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