- Teachers should have more latitude to engage students so they can learn to ask historical questions necessary to do better on assessments, said James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association.
- If students don’t understand historical thinking, they can never do well on these tests,” said Grossman. “Unless these are bad tests.”
- The most recent 2022 National Assessment of Education Progress scores showed drops for 8th graders in history and civics. The decline has been continuous since 2014.
Grossman is aware of the current and past drops in NAEP scores. But the cause, he said, could be that teachers aren’t being allowed to teach the way they know students best learn. He pointed to what he calls the “chilling effect” of recent laws across several states that have limited discussions he says are core to understanding history, particularly American history.
Grossman said the American Historical Association has heard from teachers who don’t know what they can or can’t say in class, and they are also getting calls from parents at night about their lessons. Teachers, he said, are concerned that what they know is factual history is something they’re in danger for teaching despite it being material that is core to helping students develop critical and historical thinking skills that would support their learning.
For example, Grossman said that the men who wrote the founding documents in the U.S. “lived in communities where it was legal and acceptable and legitimate to own, buy and sell other people.”
“It is up to students to talk about that, read these documents, and see whether they see things in the founding documents or not that are influenced by that fact,” he said. “The teacher doesn’t have to tell them what is in the documents. The teachers just have to tell them what the facts are.”
To Grossman, that distinction is part of a process that may help students perform better on standardized tests — and may also be part of a process that could help the nation at large.
“Nothing can be understood without relevance to time, place and culture, which is historical thinking,” he said. “If Americans don’t understand how we came to be divided, we can never heal division. Those are historical questions.”