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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