Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE
When the dismal results from the sixth- and seventh-grade state-mandated social studies tests started rolling in, officials at the Georgia Department of Education were quick to look for culprits, State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox told the State Board of Education recently.
They first considered that the company that provides the Criterion-Reference Competency Tests had erred in building or scoring the tests. That turned out not to be true, Cox said.
State officials turned their attention once again to the official curriculum, which was the result of an effort in recent years to slim down the old, bulky state guidelines.
"We thought we put out what were clear standards," Cox said. "But when you go back and you really look, and you sit side by side ... what we were telling the teachers to teach the students and the kind of test item that came up related to that standard, you're back to our problem of the old [curriculum]."
So the state asked a group of teachers to come in and revamp the standards, which gained preliminary approval from the education board earlier this month. Now online, the standards are open for public comment ahead of what is scheduled to be the board's final approval in August.
MAO STILL IN, RENAISSANCE OUT
The challenge facing those tasked with overhauling the curriculum was easy to identify: Pare it down to a manageable size by removing something. Similar efforts for the original draft of the new social studies curriculum in some grades had caused controversy a few years ago when some felt critical parts of U.S. or world history were getting short shrift. Some of the changes, notably dealing with the Civil War, were undone.
Sixth- and seventh-grade social studies, though, largely deals with the culture, government, economics, geography and history of other countries around the world. So countries, and some aspects of those countries, would have to go.
"We looked at it from every angle, and we tried to narrow the focus so that we could dig down deep and allow students the opportunity to really engage in the content," said Eddie Bennett, Cobb County middle and high school social studies supervisor and executive director of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies. "Rather than trying to teach each and every country in the world, which is impossible to do, we decided to look at every region of the world and pick out particular countries. And then we wanted to study those from an historical point of view, geography, economics and government."
So sixth-graders will still have to find Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and Haiti, among others, on a map, but not Costa Rica, Bolivia or Guatemala. They will study the Zapatista guerrilla movement in Mexico, but not a drug-backed militant group in Colombia known as FARC.