Below is a copy of the NCSS letter written to the Virginia House to help urge Virginia to continue their 3rd Grade Socials Studies and Science SOL assessments.
January 27, 2012
Honorable Mark L. Dudenhefer Chairman,
Committee on Education
Virginia House of Delegates
Dear Mr. Dudenhefer:
Virginia has been unique in its understanding of the importance of social studies education. The accountability ensured through assessments in grade 3 preserves the significant place that social studies has in the formation of our youngest learners for the first four years of their schooling.
I and the leadership of National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) understand that the Virginia General Assembly faces serious budgeting challenges and difficult decisions in the coming weeks. I am writing to express our concern about a troubling trend among states with existing social studies assessments confronted with budget cuts. We urge you to reconsider the proposed elimination of 3rd Grade Socials Studies SOL tests in Virginia. Civics and history must remain a priority for schools and students and examinations in these content areas are crucial to meeting that commitment. Social studies educators give students the content knowledge, intellectual skills, and civic values they need to fulfill the duties of citizenship in a participatory democracy.
With the elimination of 3rd grade testing in social studies and science, Virginia will slouch toward the narrow curriculum articulated in the Common Core and lose much of its standing as an example of excellence in state innovation and rigor in an education landscape that is directed more and more from Washington, D.C. each day. The present reality is that in the absence of required national assessments and in the current federal policy where it seems that assessment is the single route to guaranteed time and attention in the classroom, state efforts to measure student and teacher performance are invaluable. The gradual elimination of social studies from the school day would do social studies educators, students, families, communities and citizens a grave disservice.
The underlying report that seems to have generated the interest or support for the elimination of this test is not well founded. By removing the accountability for teaching social studies and science standards, teachers are far less likely to devote time to building the academic vocabulary of these disciplines (history, civics, economics, geography, and the sciences- life, earth, physical, etc.). The rich language enabled through the study of these subjects contributes to the development of early childhood literacy. As literary critic E. D. Hirsch, Jr. expresses in his article “How to Stop the Verbal Drop” published online September 18, 2011 in the New York Times, the success of children’s verbal test scores in the later elementary grades is intricately connected to the understandings established through in-depth study and hearing and reading in the content areas.
The recommendation from the JLARC falsely suggests that the elimination of theses tests will make it easier for teachers to “focus on reading.” The very thing the proposed legislation hopes to achieve will be thwarted by it’s adoption of this failed argument.
Again, we applaud Virginia as a champion for social studies education and encourage you to preserve 3rd Grade Socials Studies and Science SOL assessments in the Commonwealth. Eliminating the social studies from the accountability system for grades K-3 will lead to continued marginalization of history and social sciences at the middle and secondary levels. The very subjects that we need to help our children achieve higher literacy and reading levels, and that will also prepare young people to become productive, knowledgeable citizens.
Thank you for your consideration of our views. If you or your staff has any questions on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
NCSS Executive Director