Wednesday, May 3, 2006

NCHE Review of Florida's History Standards - 2006

Review of the Florida History Standards and Grade Level Expectations
John Pyne

“The Sunshine State Standards,” according to the Introduction: Development of Grade Level Expectations,

“are the centerpiece of a reform effort in Florida to align curriculum, instruction and
assessment. They identify what students should know and be able to do for the 21st century and
are thus both content standards and performance standards.” The Florida Social Studies Standards
are divided into four content area strands: “Time, Continuity, and Change” includes the world,
United States, and Florida history standards; “People, Places, and Environments” list the geography
standards; “Government and the Citizen” includes the Civics and Government Standards,
while the economic standards are listed under the heading “Economics,” but sometimes included
under the heading “Production, Distribution, Consumption” as in the Grade Level Expectations
for individual grades K-8.

The six history standards are listed under the “Time, Continuity, and Change” strand and read as

Standard 1: The student understands historical chronology and the historical perspective.
Standard 2: The student understands the world from its beginnings to the time of the
Standard 3: The student understands Western and Eastern civilization since the Renaissance.
Standard 4: The student understands U.S. history to 1880.
Standard 5: The student understands U.S. history from 1880 to the present day.
Standard 6: The student understands the history of Florida and its people.

With the exception of Standard 1 which deals with historical chronology and historical perspective
the remaining history standards refer to the general historical periods covered at particular
grade levels and are not really standards at all. The history standards are so vague and open-ended
as to provide little assistance to teachers, students, and parents about what precisely should be
learned or how much time ought to be devoted to specific topics, periods, and events. Standard 6
applies only to grades 4 and 8 and does not appear in the grades Pre-K-12 or grades 9-12 listings.
Under each of the standards are a listing of Benchmarks separated into four grade clusters comprising
Pre-K-2, grades 3-5, grades 6-8, and grades 9-12. The benchmarks included under each of
the standards are equally vague and unpromising. For example, under Standard 2, Benchmark 2
for grades Pre-K-2, we find “understands the differences in the methods of travel from various
times in human history and the advantages and disadvantages of each.” Under Standard 5 (dealing
with U.S. history from 1880 to the present), Benchmark 1 states “knows significant individuals
in United States history since 1880.” For the Grades 3-5 cluster, under Standard 3 (Western
and Eastern civilization since the Renaissance), Benchmark 1 declares “knows significant people
and their contributions in the field of communication and technology.” Under the same standard,
Benchmark 3 states “understands the types of laws and government systems that have developed
since the Renaissance.” For grades 6-8, under Standard 4 (United States history to 1880), Benchmark
3 declares: ‘understands the impact of significant people and ideas on the development of
values and traditions in the United States prior to 1880.” Under Standard 6, Benchmark 3 asks
students to “know how the environment of Florida has been modified by the values, traditions,
and actions of various groups who have inhabited the state.” And for grades 9-12 under Standard
5 (United States history since 1880), Benchmark 3 states: “understands significant events leading
up to the United States involvement in World War I and the political, social, and economic results
of that conflict in Europe and the United States.” Presumably, the political, social, and economic
results on other parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, and Africa go unstudied.


Benchmarks such as these are devoid of meaning and impossible to assess and evaluate. Nor do
they outline important historical content to be studied and learned by students in clear and precise
language that is comprehensible to students and teachers.

There is little correlation or coordination of the four content area strands and accompanying
benchmarks. For example, there are a total of 44 Civics and Government Benchmarks in the four
grade clusters, yet only one refers to history (in the grades 6-8 cluster under Standard 2, Benchmark
1). Moreover, the standards and benchmarks are so amorphous as to provide little direction
or guidance to teachers, students, and parents about precisely what is to be taught and expected to
be learned. Presently, Florida does not test the social studies standards and the accompanying
Grade Level Expectations are voluntary rather than mandated. There is little chance that students’
knowledge and skills in the four content strands will be assessed or evaluated in comparison with
other students and schools across the state. Moreover, we know from past experience that what is
tested is taught and schools and teachers will naturally focus on areas such as reading. Language
Arts, and math which are presently tested.

In addition to the Standards and Benchmarks, the Florida Social Studies Framework includes
Grade Level Expectations for each grade K-8. They are listed under each benchmark and are designed
to provide greater specificity as to what students need to know in order to meet the
benchmark. According to the General Guidelines heading under the Introduction: Development
of Grade Level Expectations [p. iii] the following goals are listed: The Grade Level Expectations
statements will (1) be based on current, accepted, and essential academic knowledge; (3) require
academic rigor of all students; (6) be understandable by all education stakeholders; (7) provide
the basis for further local curriculum development; and, (8) provide the basis for state, district,
school, teacher, and student accountability. According to the Specific Guidelines heading [p. iii],
the Grade Level Expectations will (1) “be new or more specific statements when appropriate, of
what students need to know and be able to do at each grade level to achieve the grade-cluster
benchmark and ultimately the exit standard. . . ." Understands and knows are the primary operative
terms in both the benchmarks and grade level expectations because they are “higher order
thinking terms.” [Introduction: Development of Grade Level Expectations, p. v] A review of the
benchmarks and grade level expectations for the various grade clusters as well as grades K-8
clearly demonstrate that the benchmarks and expectations have not met the goals established in
the General and Specific Guidelines.

The Pre-K to Grade 5 benchmarks and grade level expectations follow the “Expanding Environments”
approach and a decidedly social studies orientation emphasizing a “near to far” curricula
emphasis. The Grades 3-5 cluster is especially problematic because of the wide-ranging benchmarks
and expectations for students. In those three grades the students study world history (ancient
world to present) in grade 3, state history in grade 4, and United States history (Exploration
to Present) in grade 5. There is little continuity in the grades 3-5 and 6-8 clusters, since students
study world history in grade 3, state history in grade 4, U.S. history in grade 5, eastern civilization
in grade 6, western civilization in grade 7 and U.S. history and state history again in grade 8.
Many of the benchmarks listed under the various standards do not apply at specific grade levels
because the students are not studying that particular time period or region. For example, Standards
2 and 3 and their included benchmarks pertain only to world history and therefore are not
applicable or studied in grades 4, 5, or 8. Standards 4 and 5 and their benchmarks pertain to
United States history and are not applicable to students at the grades 3, 4, 6, and 7 years. Standard
6 relates to state history that is covered in grades 4 and 8, but not in the other grades.
Sometimes, at a particular grade level, the expectation is the same as the benchmark. For example,
in the grades 3-5 cluster, under Standard 1, Benchmark 1 reads: “The student understands


how individuals, ideas, decisions, and events can influence history.” The Grade Level Expectation
for grade 3 students states that the student “understands ways selected individuals, ideas, and
decisions influenced historical events (for example, in ancient times).” The Grade Level Expectation
for Grade 5 states that the student “extends and refines understanding of the effects of individuals,
ideas, and decisions on historical events (for example, in the United States).” Under
Standard 3, Benchmark 3 reads: “The student understands the types of laws and government systems
that have developed since the Renaissance (e.g., the development of democracy, the rise of
totalitarian governments and dictatorships, communism and absolutism).” The Grade Level Expectation
for Grade 3 students states the student “understands types of laws and government systems
that have developed since the Renaissance (for example, the development of democracy, the
rise of totalitarian governments and dictatorships, communism and absolutism).” The examples,
themselves, appear almost randomly selected and are optional—not necessarily to be studied. At
each grade level repeated examples of the pattern can be cited. Thus, instead of the expectation
statements providing more specificity to teachers and students as to what is to be learned, they
often merely repeat the vacuous and ambiguous language of the benchmark. In addition, repeated
examples can be found throughout the documents where the standard and benchmark do not apply
to a particular grade. Often a benchmark is covered in one grade in a particular cluster alone.
Additionally, although world, state, and national history are included in the three grade clusters
(Pre-K-2, 3-5, and 6-8), historical themes and topics, as presented in the benchmarks and grade
level expectations are oriented toward social studies and the expanding environments approach.
Thus, students study the family, communities, transportation and communication, technological
changes over time, art and architecture, and changes in work and leisure. Seldom do they address
traditional historical topics. At the grades 3-5 level, for example, under Standard 2 there are 7
benchmarks, one dealing with “significant scientific and technological achievements,” a second
with “developments in transportation and communication in various societies,” a third focusing
on “various aspects of family life, structures and roles in different cultures,” a fourth on “the
emergence of different laws and systems of government,” a fifth on “significant achievements in
the humanities,” a sixth on “how trade led to exploration in other regions of the world,” and the
seventh on “how developments in the Middle Ages contributed to modern life.” Under Standard 3
in the grades 9-12 cluster, there are 10 benchmarks, but only one deals specifically with history
(#9 “analyzes major historical events of the first half of the 20th century.”)

Students in Grade 6 study Eastern Civilization, while grade 7 students study Western Civilization.
Grade 8 students study United States history from beginnings to the present and state history. The
grades 6-7 social studies program is centered on a world cultures orientation rather than a world
history focus. Despite the attempt under Standard 1 to focus on chronology and historical perspective,
the world cultures approach rarely provides students with a historical context or an understanding
and knowledge of how events in one part of the world affect people and conditions in
other parts of the world. Rather, students tend to participate in a kind of “travelogue” through particular
regions with little context or perspective.

Although the history benchmarks and expectations are the most numerous in the Social Studies
Standards’ document (see chart below), many of them are general social studies statements providing
little real assistance for teachers and students in terms of significant historical content to be
learned. Nor are many of them easily assessed or evaluated to determine what students know and
understand. For example, a grade 7 student “extends and refines knowledge of ways major historical
developments have influenced selected groups over time (for example, the components
essential for the development of civilization, such as division of labor, technology, government,
writing, calendar in the Western hemisphere, the spread of humanism during the Renaissance).”
The same student “extends and refines understanding of ways technological factors have influ4
enced selected groups over time (for example, transportation in the Western hemisphere.)” A
grade 6 student “knows significant aspects of the lives and accomplishments of selected men and
women in the historical period of ancient civilizations to the present day (for example, Confucius,
Buddha to Gandhi [sic], Mao Zedong, Mother Theresa.)” The same student “understands selected
aspects of political, economic, and social institutions in selected cultures in Eastern civilizations
(for example, governments, social traditions and customs, economic systems, religious institutions).”
A fifth grade student “understands selected aspects of everyday life in Colonial America
(for example, impact of religions, types of work, use of land, leisure activities, relations with Native
Americans, slavery).” An abundance of similar examples can be cited at each grade level.
How can students be assessed or evaluated on their knowledge and understanding of such vacuous statements?

The following chart provides a breakdown of the number of expectations in each of the four content
area strands.

Grade History Geography Civics/Govt. Economics Total
KG 19 7 6 4 36
1 19 11 10 6 46
2 19 10 11 10 50
3 18 7 3 5 33
4 18 2 8 5 33
5 28 6 13 10 57
6 15 17 1 1 34
7 14 15 1 2 32
8 16 4 12 5 37
Totals 166 79 65 48 358

The amorphous and fragmented nature of the standards, benchmarks, and expectations provide
little help for developing curriculum or assessing and evaluating student learning. The standards
should outline what is the most important content and skills for students to know. They should
include performance indicators (benchmarks) that clearly specify for students and teachers what
needs to be learned and they must include specific grade level expectations that are clearly written,
precise, and “teachable” in the standard school year. Abstract concepts and the inability or
unwillingness to distinguish the important from the unimportant plague the Florida social studies
standards. What do we want our students to know? What level of proficiency do we want them to
display to indicate they have learned what we deem most important and substantive?
The present Social Studies Standards, Benchmarks, and Grade Level Expectations provide little
assistance for organizing a coherent, well-articulated social studies program. History and geography
provide the essential core of the social studies program. They should emphasize vital themes,
topics, and habits of mind with meaningful links to civics and government, economics, and political
science. By organizing the social studies program in historical time and geographic place, by
presenting the content as a journey as to how we got to where we are today, and by centering the
narrative around the lives of ordinary and extraordinary individuals, the students will be provided
with a historical context, an understanding of how geography impacts human affairs and the environment,
how society and institutions evolved over time, as well as a more coherent and interesting


The late Paul Gagnon reminds us that “[t]he values that sustain democracy are not natural habits; we are not born with them. Devotion to human equality and freedom, to social and economic justice,
to truth and the rule of law, to acceptance of diversity and mutual aid, to personal selfrestraint
and self-respect—all these need teaching, learning, and practice.”