C3 Proficiency Scales: Round 2

About two weeks ago I wrote a post about my first attempt with writing proficiency scales for the C3 standards. The first few I wrote were for fairly common skills, namely contextualization and continuity and change over time. Every set of history standards I have seen include these skills with similar wording no matter the curriculum group, state, or publishing institution.

As I continued with this process, I got to the strand of history standards titled Historical Sources and Evidence where some of the wording and intent of the standards start to differ from examples I have worked with in the past. First, they are clearly written with the C3 inquiry framework in mind, something I quite like. However, despite being separated into five distinct standards, there are clearly connections between them and even some overlap when considering how they might be applied in the classroom.

Connections between standards are normal and expected; the standards are pictures to the right. As I approached writing proficiency scales for them I was reminded about the struggles of logistics meeting philosophy. Ultimately, the curriculum needs to consider both, especially when it will follow a standards-based grading model.

When prioritizing standards and envisioning how they will actually be taught and assessed within the classroom, it quickly becomes clear that not all standards are equal. Some standards are foundational and simply not as rigorous with regards to achieving proficiency, some standards read as more specific processes within a larger “big tent” standard. This is not to say these standards are flawed or less important. But it does present challenges for organizing the curriculum.

If a standard is too specific it can be difficult to create meaningful assessments that are focused around it. Timing also becomes an issue if a course has too many of these standards that must be assessed multiple times over the course of a semester. Likewise, if similar or connected standards are taught and assessed in isolation, students may not see the larger picture of how skills are interconnected and reliant on each other when applied outside of the classroom. These represent both logistical and philosophical issues around teaching that need to be considered when building a standards-based grading system.

Returning to the C3 standards pictured on the right. I see a very strong connection between standards 9 and 10 and then between 11, 12, and 13. Looking first at standards 9 and 10; Understanding the limitations of various types of sources is an important foundational skill to understanding the connection between sources and the secondary interpretations that historians write. Having a strong understanding of this relationship is also one of the ways to help students understand why secondary interpretations differ. These two standards reflect on each other and I think they can be better taught and assessed in combination. With that in mind, I combined them into the same proficiency scale.

Turning to standards 11, 12, and 13, the processes of critiquing historical sources, assessing their limitations and uses, generating new questions and then pursuing new sources and inquiry are all connected. Trying to break them into discrete pieces for assessment doesn’t do justice to the skills or for the students. Separating the pieces into different standards to ensure each skill is clearly taught does not mean they need to be separated into different proficiency scales or isolated in other parts of the curriculum. Similarly, standard 13 seems a natural extension of 11 and 12, making it great as a Score 4.0 extension. Our department did not prioritize standard 13 for the 10th grade course; using those higher level standards for Score 4.0 extensions are a great way of vertically aligning with other courses.

The proficiency scales that I drafted based on this rationale are pictured below. Formatting aside, it should be easy to see how I have tried to combine them in a meaningful way to teach and assess students. After all, student understanding of proficiency scales and the spirit and intention of a standards-based system is a critical part of its success.

There will almost certainly be history teachers who take disagreement with something that I’ve done when interpreting and drafting these standards. Ultimately they are a product of how I see myself applying these standards to lessons and assessments in my own classroom. My main argument by doing this is not that this represents the correct interpretation of the C3 standards, but that curriculum should not be a straight-jacket for teachers. It can and should adapt to the needs of the discipline and the needs of the students.

Logistically, looking at how standards build on each other and align is a way of including more taught and assessed standards in the curriculum, lessening the need for courageous deletions of skill or content. It also supports clear vertical alignment within course units and between courses at different grade levels.

A curriculum coordinator who says every standard needs a proficiency scale without regard to how those standards are applied in the classroom is misguided. Not all standards are equal. Some standards are foundational, some are extensions, some are inextricably linked when they come to life beyond the curriculum documents. This is where teachers and content experts need to add their experience and expertise to the discussion. Engaging with curriculum makes teachers better at their craft and offers significant insight that curriculum experts alone may miss.

Proficiency Scale for Standards 9 & 10

Proficiency Scale: Standars 9 & 10

Proficiency Scale for Standards 11, 12, & 13

Proficiency Scale: Standars 11, 12 & 13

My next step, and likely a future post, will be tackling how to apply their other dimensions of the inquiry process to a standards-based framework. Dimension 2: Applying Disciplinary Concepts and Tools includes all of their standards specific to History, Geography, Civics, and Economics. The standards in the other dimensions are a little more abstract and relate to the interdisciplinary inquiry process.

  • Dimension 1: Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries
  • Dimension 3: Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence
  • Dimension 4: Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action.

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