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Data driven decision making in the social studies.

Securing Data

Tests used to evaluate pupil academic achievement must be valid in that they measure accurately in the respective academic discipline. Thus, a social studies test must measure pupil knowledge in this academic field. The test also needs to measure consistently so that the teacher has precise knowledge of what the pupil knows in the social studies. Reliability may consist of test/retest, alternative forms, and/or split half reliability. The objectives for each test should be available to social studies teachers for use in teaching and learning situations. This makes for greater validity in teaching as compared to pupils being tested on unfamiliar subject matter.

Pupil standardized test results need to provide an overview of a learner's overall achievement as compared to others in the norm group upon which the test was standardized. Thus, percentile ranks, grade equivalent, and stanines are given in the Manual which may then be matched with each pupil's test results in the social studies. It must be realized that pupils differ from each other in a plethora of ways including abilities possessed, intelligence, and motivation. Of utmost importance is to compare how well the pupil did as compared to previous test results. Each pupil should make optimal progress from one testing to the other. Teachers need to have test results pertaining to which test items were missed by the learner. He/she might then plan how each pupil may achieve more optimally in the social studies by basing instruction on test items missed.

The test item missed should have broad implications for teaching social studies, not narrow factual information. The broad implications include concepts, generalizations, and main ideas. These may be tested in ensuing learning opportunities and are useful in many situations, in school and in society (Ediger, 2008).

Standardized tests are generally given once a year and comparisons for each pupil may be made in achievement from one year to the next. In the mean time, teacher written tests, properly crafted, may provide valuable feedback on learner progress. These test should also be valid. The teacher of social studies may write a multiple choice test item as he/she teaches a concept, generalization, and/or main idea. Face validity is then being stressed. It is not good to ask test questions for which pupils have had little/no previous opportunity for learning. These test items lack validity. In writing each multiple choice test item, the social studies teacher needs to

* write a stem (not all have stems) which harmonizes grammatically with four distractors

* write distractors which are all plausible. The following is not a plausible distractor: The first president of the United States was (a) Mickey Mouse.

* write distractors of similar length so as not to provide clues as to which is the correct (or incorrect) answer

* provide no clues in writing as to which is the correct response such as:

The capitol cities of Saudi Arabia are (a) Riyad and Mecca, (b) Ammon, (c) Damascus, (d) Baghdad.

By developing high quality tests, the teacher has a much better opportunity of obtaining relevant data for social studies curricular decision making. If test items are poorly written, the teacher has little to go by in improving social studies instruction (Ediger, 2008).

True/false test items have merit in evaluating pupils achievement if they attempt to eliminate the possibility of excessive guessing, otherwise the pupil has a fifty percent chance of guessing correct responses. Notice the following true/false test item: The Sea of Galilee is the largest body of water in the land of Palestine. The answer is false. The pupil needs to change what is false to make the previous statement true. Thus, The Dead Sea is the largest body of water in the land of Palestine.

Matching test items in the social studies, carefully written by the teacher, provide information from test results for teaching and learning situations. Matching test items need to follow the following criteria:

* there should be more items in one column than the other in order to minimize the process of elimination to come up with correct answers. It is always good to match known items in column A with the correct response in column B first, then the remainder has a few extra items to avoid guessing which is correct. The teacher desires to have accurate, relevant information from test results in order to improve sequence and accuracy of knowledge.

* one of the two columns should have words or short phrases only, not complete sentences. It becomes exceedingly complex if both columns for matching have complete sentences.

* the written matching test should harmonize with the developmental level of the test taker. Thus, the test may be too lengthy or too short depending upon the mental maturity level of the pupil. Words used must be on the understanding level of test takers (See Burke 2005).

Essay tests written by the teacher provide opportunities for pupils to organizing ideas, sequence written content, as well as indicate breadth and depth in learning. Clarity of ideas expressed is of utmost importance which must be meaningful to the reader of the essay test items. The pupil, here, is attempting to communicate content in writing. If long hand is used. then quality handwriting needs to be emphasized. Additional mechanics in written work include proper punctuation, grammar, letter formation, capitalization of words, and as well as alignment of letters and words. Essay test items need to adhere to the following standards:

* be on the developmental level of the involved learners

* be valid and aligned with the objectives of the lesson/unit of study

* be meaningfully written so that pupils know what is wanted in terms of responses

* be written so that creative and critical thinking, as well as problem solving are stressed

* be evaluated with quality rubric assistance. Rubric results can emphasize interscorer reliability if several evaluate the same essays using the criteria in the rubric (Ediger, 2007).

With teacher written tests, pupils have opportunities to reveal intrinsically what has been accomplished and the resulting information may be highly useful to pinpoint specifics in what is left to learn. These test items truly reflect what is taught in a unit of study.

They may not possess the validity and reliability inherent in pilot studied and analyzed standardized tests, also called norm referenced tests distinguishable from criterion referenced tests.

To improve unit teaching in the social studies, the teacher must secure vital test information from pupils. Formative evaluation stresses the importance of securing information of pupil learning along the way when the unit is implemented. This gives chances for the teacher to make revisions and modifications before the unit ends. Thus, from feedback obtained, the teacher may make necessary changes in objectives to be emphasized in teaching/ learning activities to achieve these objectives, as well as the appraisal procedures themselves.

Summative evaluation emphasizes end of unit appraisal. When the social studies unit has been completed, the teacher views test results from summative evaluation. Here, in reviewing the data, the social studies teacher attempts to answer the following:

* which changes should be made in the unit of study for the next school year?

* what modifications need to be made in the objectives, the learning opportunities, as well as the appraisal procedures?

* which grouping procedures, if any, in the classroom should be changed?

* how much stress needs to be placed upon individual versus cooperative endeavors in learning?

* should enrichment activities be included as motivators for learning? (See National Council for the Social Studies, 2008).

There are schools and teachers who emphasize benchmarks in achievement.

Thus, there are goals which learners need to achieve within a unit at an approximate time. The social studies teacher may then evaluate what pupils have accomplished and what is left to learn. This is a time for reflection and further planning to optimize learner achievement.

There are cautions to observe in testing pupils. These include the following:

* pupils may be tested too frequently, especially when other methods of appraisal are useful such as teacher observation of pupil achievement. Adequate time must be available for instruction, also.

* pupils may refrain from putting forth effort in test taking if too many are given

* there are a plethora of additional methods to determine what pupils have learned, than standardized and other forms of paper/pencil tests

* pupil fatigue may set in with too many tests to taken.

There are a plethora of additional methods to use in appraising learner achievement, than testing. These include the following in the social studies:

* teacher observation, briefly referred to above. Here, the social studies teacher may notice immediately where a pupil needs more assistance. Thus, a pupil may need help with understanding and drawing lines of latitude and longitude in geography.

* discussion settings in which learners reveal they do not attach meaning to the concepts of time in history as in the French Revolution related to other events in context. Assistance might well then be provided for pupils to develop greater insights into this period of time.

* a debate involving governmental intervention versus the free enterprise system in health care provisions, in the political science and economics domain.

* a chart developed within a committee to show the influence of culture on human behavior (See Ahmad (2009).

Somewhat opposite of measurement psychology of instruction is constructivism. Constructivism emphasizes the following:

* a pupil centered approach in teaching whereby they are actively involved in the instructional arena

* pupil/teacher planning of objectives, learning activities, and evaluation procedures

* pupils sequence their own individual learnings

* pupils with teacher guidance learn by discovery methods

* testing is greatly minimized. Teacher observation and pupil self evaluation are used in assessment.


Ahmad, Sajjad (2009), "Evolving A Framework for Teaching and Learning," Edutracks, 8 (9), 11-12. Published in India.

Burke, Karen (2005), "Teacher Certification Exams: What Are the Predictors of Success?" College Student Journal, 39 (4), 784-793.

Ediger, Marlow (2008), "Leadership in the School Setting," Education, 129 (1), 17-20.

Ediger, Marlow (2008), "The School and Students in Society," Journal of Instructional Psychology, 35 (3), 260-263.

Ediger, Marlow (2007), "Teacher Observation to Assess Student Achievement," Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34 (3),137-139.

National Council for the Social Studies (2008), "A Vision of Powerful Teaching and Learning in the Social Studies: Building Effective Citizens," Social Education, 72 (5), 277-280.


Professor Emeritus, Truman State University
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Author:Ediger, Marlow
Date:Dec 22, 2010
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