C3 Historical Thinking Skills Proficiency Scales

So many state standards for history are based on what content the governments and legislatures want students to know, explain, or analyze. Increasingly, these are being supplemented with skills-based standards to guide the instruction of historical thinking. Whether these standards come from the C3 Framework, College Board, the National Center for History in Schools, or a particular state, they generally include many of the same core skills. Even if the exact wording of the standard changes, or if the way the standards are divided into strands or measurement topic varies, the “spirit” of the historical thinking skills remain and can be used to guide the development of proficiency scales. I have to make one more shout out to Peter Seixas and his book The Big Six, which has become one of the major influences in my teaching of history and historical thinking skills.

Proficiency scales are useful regardless of whether they are being used in a standards-based or traditional grading system. They clarify the target expectation, can remove the need of over-complicated analytical rubrics, push teachers to consider scaffolding of both instruction and assessment, and help students see the application of what they are learning.

The Proficiency scales in this post are tied to the specific wording of the C3 Framework. Although my first foray into Standards-Based Grading was with standards from the National Center for History in Schools, I think the C3 Framework is more commonly used by many public and private schools, has application across social studies disciplines, and is more strongly embedded with the inquiry process.

There are a few gaps I found in the C3 standards; I borrowed wording from NCHS and College Board standards in order to fill these. Where relevant, I have also linked possible vertical alignment documents for a skill across grade levels and even alternative scales. Starting curriculum tasks with something concrete to discuss and build on can often lead to better results than a group discussion with nothing to anchor the task. Regardless of what standards you might use, I hope these provide a useful resource for developing curriculum that includes direct instruction and assessment of historical thinking skills. My next steps are to develop proficiency scales for the other disciplines in the C3 framework and even the other domains, to the extent that inquiry can be both taught and assessed. Please keep in mind these are works in progress.

Some of the rationale behind a few of these proficiency scales can be found in previous posts linked below. I plan on this post being the main location of these resources, even as I may update them.

Note: The links to the Word/Google Doc proficiency scale files include the fill scale, not just the part I cropped for the image.


The C3 Framework made contextualization their first standard. I expanded this scale to include both the contextualization of historical developments and trends and the contextualization of sources. I borrowed the term “present-mindedness” from the NCHS wording. An assessment on contextualization may not do everything listed on the scale, but a “big tent” standard creates easier opportunities for spiraling and reassessment, and gives the teacher a large degree of curriculum flexibility.

C3 Standard 1 Proficiency Scale (Contextualization)

Note: I combined history standard 3 within the Score 3.0 process of both standard 1 and standard 2. My reasoning is that standard 3 asks specifically to analyze the role of groups and individuals in both contextualization and CCOT analysis. I think it makes sense to include it as part of the analytical processes it should be assessed with.

Continuity and Change over Time

The CCOT skill in the C3 Framework is in history standard 2. There are not separate skills for periodization or other sub-skills related to CCOT. The basic understandings of historical duration and succession, or chronological thinking, are included in the lower grade level bands.

C3 History Standard 2 Proficiency Scale (CCOT)

Note: I combined history standard 3 within the Score 3.0 process of both standard 1 and standard 2. My reasoning is that standard 3 asks specifically to analyze the role of groups and individuals in both contextualization and CCOT analysis. I think it makes sense to include it as part of the analytical processes it should be assessed with.

Possible Vertical Alignment 6-12 – Vertical alignment of skills between grades is critical to long-term success, even if some skills end up skipping certain years. In my current school, there are no non-AP history courses at grades 11 and 12, so that final band just remains possible enrichment for the 9th and 10th grade courses.

Historical Perspectives

The C3 Framework has five standards in the “Perspectives” measurement topic. Standards 4 and 5 relate to analyzing the perspectives of historical people, with attention to the interacting factors determining perspective and contextualization. I think that comparison of these perspectives is implied if not stated directly. I combined these standards into a single proficiency scale given their connection. I also thought standard 6 provided an interesting extension for Score 4.0 even though it has its own proficiency scale around historiography. Looking for these connections between standards helps students see how skills do not exist in hermetically sealed boxes.

C3 History Standard 4/5 Proficiency Scale (Historical Perspectives)


When I first read through the C3 Framework I was surprised to see such attention paid to historiography. It is one of my favorite things to teach despite being higher level. I was never taught historiography in high school, but it has great value and can be incredibly interesting if the examples are selected accordingly. Standards 6, 7, and 8 all relate to the various building block of analyzing historiography. Whenever I teach historiography it involves pieces of all three standards. It was difficult for me to imagine teaching and assessing them separately unless one of them is targeted for a 9th/10th grade course in order to set up the high level stuff in an 11th/12th grade course. However, separating history standards out between all high school grades is difficult when there are so many social studies electives that students can take. I thought it better to create another “big tent” proficiency scale for historiography for the moments when it becomes possible to teach. Some schools with other courses and needs may find it more useful to separate these out.

C3 History Standards 6/7/8 Proficiency Scale (Historiography)

Historical Sources & Evidence

The five standards of this measurement topic cover working with primary sources and historical evidence, their relationship to secondary sources, and the process of questioning sources to pursue further research. Some of these are difficult to teach and assess in isolation because of their natural connection to other skills and tasks. Some need to be taught, but do not necessarily need to be summatively assessed on their own. Ultimately, I combined them into two proficiency scales that correspond to how I have taught and assessed these standards as part of inquires and research projects. A previous post provides my full rationale for this.

C3 Standard 9/10 Proficiency Scale (Historical Sources)

C3 Standard 11/12/13 Proficiency Scale (Historical Inquiry)


Causation is a core skill of any history curriculum and is my favorite to teach. I found it interesting that the C3 Framework has a general causation standard as well as a standard that specifies the difference between a long-term and trigger cause. I can’t foresee a situation where I would not teach and assess those two concepts together. As such, I rolled standards 14 and 15 into a single proficiency scale.

C3 Standard 14/15 Proficiency Scale (Causation)


Any breakdown of argumentation in history will inevitably borrow on writing expectations common in english classrooms. I have found success in aligning my expectations in history with the same grade level expectations in english classes. This is especially powerful because I teach in international schools with high proportions of ELLs who benefit from common language, common scaffolds, and common expectations with writing across disciplines. Ultimately, an argumentative essay will also pull on other skills such as causation or contextualization, and how students use those skills will help determine if their arguments are complex enough in their structure and analysis. Scaffolding all other skills pays dividends when teaching argumentation.

C3 Standard 16 Proficiency Scale (Argumentation)

This is a possible Vertical Alignment for Argumentation. This was developed based on Common Core standards and what I have seen my colleagues in English doing as well as from NCHS and C3 standards. I think having a clear alignment of writing expectations across grade levels is more important than quibbling over the minor differences of what a 9th or 10th grader should be doing to earn a score of 3.0. Educators use a lot of terms such as “complex or well-reasoned argument,” “logical claim,” or “significance” and need to clearly explain to themselves and their students what that means. This is often discipline specific, but is an important step for scaffolding good arguments.

History in Multiple Media

This was a harder proficiency scale to write because there is not a similar standard in NCHS that I have previously used. I am looking forward to exploring how to teach and assess it, a process which will lead to edits and changes. I think the spirit of the standard is to get students to see that different ways of presenting history (through documentary film, written word, art, satire, etc.) affects how people understand it and how public historical memory is shaped.

C3 Standard 17 Proficiency Scale (Historical Multiple Media)

To readers and downloaders, let me know if you find these useful or if you have ideas that can be added to the scales or alternate ways of interpreting standards. Thanks!

One thought on “C3 Historical Thinking Skills Proficiency Scales

  1. Pingback: Standards-Based Grading in History: Vertical and Horizontal Alignment

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