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Assessment, Autonomy, and Elementary Social Studies Time


by Paul G. Fitchett, Tina L. Heafner & Richard Lambert — 2014

Background/context: In an era of accountability and standardization, elementary social studies is consistently losing its curricular foothold to English/language arts, math, and science instruction.

Purpose: This article examines the relationship between elementary teachers’ perceptions of instructional autonomy, teaching context, state testing policy, and reported social studies instructional time.

Research design: Employing secondary data from the National Center for Education Statistics 2007/2008 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), we analyzed the association between elementary (Grades 1–5) teachers’ perceived autonomy, classroom/school contexts, and state testing policies on reported time spent on social studies. We also analyzed the moderating effect of state-level testing policy on teachers’ sense of autonomy in relation to reported social studies instructional time.

Data Collection and Analysis: We conducted analysis of variance (ANOVA) and hierarchical liner modeling (HLM) to examine the association among multiple levels of teacher, classroom, school, and state policy levels as a function of reported social studies instructional time.

Findings/Results: Results indicate that elementary teachers’ working in states that require elementary social studies testing spend more time on social studies instruction. Moreover, teachers’ who report greater instructional autonomy and teach intermediate grades (4–5) spend more time on social studies. Finally, elementary teachers working in states with a required social studies test report less instructional autonomy than teachers without a test.

Recommendations: Findings suggest recommendations for practitioners, school leaders, and educational policy. Social studies teacher educators and practitioners should continue to support ambitious teaching. School leaders who value social studies instruction should foster environments that offer less curricular restrictions, particularly in the later grades. From an organizational perspective, mandatory statewide testing improves the quantity of social studies at the elementary grades. However, policy makers and education advocates should weigh the costs and benefits of increased testing mandates and their possible impact on the quality of social studies teaching and learning.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 10, 2014, p. 1-34
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17605, Date Accessed: 12/17/2017 10:40:47 AM

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About the Author
  • Paul Fitchett
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    PAUL G. FITCHETT is Associate Professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary, and K12 Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where his research focuses on the intersections of educational policy, instructional practice, and schooling context in social studies teaching and learning. He is the cofounder of SQUARSS (Supporting Quantitative Understanding, Analysis, and Research in Social Studies), an associate editor for the newly formed Journal of Applied Educational Policy and Research, and co-editor of the forthcoming The Status of Social Studies: Views from the Field (Information Age Publishing). His research has been published in scholarly journals including Theory and Research in Social Education, Urban Education, Action in Teacher Education, and Educational Policy. Recent publications include: Fitchett, P. G., Starker, T. V., & Salyers, B. (2012). Examining culturally responsive teaching self-efficacy in a preservice social studies education course. Urban Education, 47(3), 585–611. Fitchett, P. G., & Heafner, T. L. (2010). A national perspective on the effects of high-stakes testing and standardization on elementary social studies marginalization. Theory and Research in Social Education, 38(1), 114–130.
  • Tina Heafner
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    TINA L. HEAFNER is Professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary, and K-12 Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where she also serves as the Coordinator of the M.Ed. and Minor in Secondary Education programs. Her research interests include social studies marginalization and policy, teacher autonomy and praxis, online and technology mediated learning, and social studies literacy. Selected recent publications include: Heafner, T. L., & Fitchett, P. (2012). Tipping the scales: National trends of declining instructional time in elementary schools. Journal of Social Studies Research, 36(2), 190–215. Heafner, T. L., Petty, T., & Hartshorne, R. (2012). University supervisor perspectives of the remote observation of graduate interns. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 24(3), 143–163.
  • Richard Lambert
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    RICHARD LAMBERT is Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Educational Measurement and Evaluation and as Editor of NHSA Dialog: The Research-to-Practice Journal for the Early Education Field. His research interests include assessment and evaluation of programs for young children, applied statistics, and teacher stress. Selected recent publications include: Mickelson, R., Bottia, M., & Lambert, R. G. (2013). Effects of school racial composition on K-12 mathematics outcomes: A metaregression analysis. Review of Educational Research, 83(1), 121–158. Ullrich, A., Lambert, R. G., & McCarthy, C. (2012). Relationship of German elementary teachers’ occupational experience, stress, and coping resources to burnout symptoms. International Journal of Stress Management, 19(4), 333–342.
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