Curriculum and Instruction

New York State Social Studies Initiative


What is the New York State Social Studies Initiative?

A plan designed to raise student achievement in standards-based prekindergarten — grade 12 social studies programs. The initiative provides curriculum guidance and resources that will

  • increase collaboration between students, teachers, administrators, parents, community members, professional associations, and higher education professionals;
  • promote standards-based curriculum planning that will incorporate best practices and support the uses of technology;
  • enhance professional development for teachers;
  • close the performance gap in social studies between high- and low-need schools.

Why is the New York State Social Studies Initiative necessary?

In recent years, data gathered from international, national, and state assessments and studies have indicated a need for strengthening student performance in social studies, particularly for students in high-need districts. However, even low-need districts often see significant achievement gaps in social studies.

The Congressional Conference on Civic Education, the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Citizenship: A Challenge for All GenerationsExternal Link, and the Carnegie Corporation’s The Civic Mission of SchoolsExternal Link have all emphasized the need for strengthening student performance in the social studies, particularly civics; these national studies have found that there are generational gaps in civic knowledge, attitudes, and participation, and that these gaps are greater than they have ever been. These studies also show that students who have taken social studies courses in civics are two to three times more likely to vote, keep up with local, state, and national news about government, and contact a public official about issues that concern them.

The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA)External Link examined 28 countries in a large-scale international study of both civics content and civics skills. American students are doing well when compared to their peers in other countries, but students from low-income families and/or communities, and African-American and Hispanic students, do not do as well on a civics knowledge test.

On the National Geographic - Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey External Link that assessed 3,250 young adults (ages 18 - 24) in nine countries, including the United States, roughly 85 percent of these Americans could not find Afghanistan, Iraq, or Israel on a map. One conclusion from the survey was that American students struggle with basic geography facts. Of the young adults who were surveyed, Americans ranked next to last. Out of the 56 questions that were asked, the average young American answered only 23 questions correctly. Lack of geographical information is more than an embarrassment; it has a direct impact on U.S. foreign policy decisions, on our ability to evaluate such public policies as the North American Free Trade Agreement, and on how we as a nation make a broad range of domestic and foreign policy issues.

In the fall of 2002, the National Council of Economic Education External Link surveyed all 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine the extent to which economics and personal finance were taught. Their conclusion was that, as a result of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) External Link legislation, fewer states address economic and financial competency in their educational programs.

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)External Link in civics, geography, and United States history, provide a measurement of what students know and can do by regularly assessing students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

On the 1998 NAEP Civics Assessment, 70 percent of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 were at the “basic” level in civics performance; female students had lower scale scores than male students in grades 8 and 12; and higher percentages of white and Asian/Pacific Islanders were at or above the “proficient” level than black, Hispanic, or Native American Indian students.

NAEP is in the process of developing a 2006 Economics Assessment. Their framework states that “the purpose of economic education is to enable individuals to function effectively both in their own personal lives and as citizens and participants in an increasingly connected world economy.” A 2010 World History Assessment is planned, and a framework is in development.

On the 2001 NAEP Geography Assessment, students in grades 4, 8, and 12 who live in rural and urban fringe areas achieved higher average scores than central city students. Since the 1994 NAEP assessment of geography, achievement has gone up in both grades 4 and 8, and all of the significant gains have been made by the lower-performing groups of students, and the number of students in grades 4 and 8 reaching the “basic” achievement level has increased significantly. In grade 12, however, there has been no significant change either in the average score or in the proportion of students reaching any of the higher achievement levels. A conclusion that can be drawn by comparing the 1994 and 2001 assessments is that the achievement gaps are still substantial.

When comparing the results of the 2001 NAEP United States History Assessment with the 1994 assessment, students in grades 4 and 8 improved their performance, but grade 12 students did not improve at all. Fifty-seven percent of the high school seniors scored “below basic.” In no other subject tested by NAEP are there so many students “below basic.” How can students read a newspaper, go to the movies, or watch a television show if they do not understand any of the historical references they encounter?

New York State social studies assessments at the elementary, intermediate, and commencement levels indicate that all New York State students need to raise their level of achievement in the social studies, and gaps between high-need and low-need schools need to be narrowed.

In the era of NCLB, when there is an increased emphasis on teaching and testing mathematics and reading, it is important for the education community to acknowledge the spectrum of key subjects, including the social studies, that are needed to develop well-rounded students and adult citizens.

What are the goals of the New York State Social Studies Initiative?

  • Sharpen the focus on standards-based social studies instruction and provide resources for raising student achievement
  • Enable all districts to strengthen their local curriculum’s alignment to the Learning Standards for Social Studies and the Social Studies Resource Guide with Core Curriculum
  • Improve professional development opportunities for social studies educators
  • Decrease the achievement gap between high- and low-performing schools on the State’s social studies assessments

What benefits will result from the New York State Social Studies Initiative?

  • Students will have engaging, standards-based activities for the in-depth investigation and study of subjects in the social studies
  • Teachers will have sustained professional development and the ability to create and access resources for enhancing classroom instruction
  • Administrators will have a clear understanding of the pathways to higher student achievement in the social studies with data-driven results
  • Parents/guardians and other family members will become partners in their child’s social studies education
  • Community members will have a clear understanding of the need for a social studies education and the ability to access information and resources to promote it
  • Professional associations will be focused on activities that support high standards, best practices, and an increase in student performance
  • Higher education professionals will prepare teachers to develop instructional programs that reflect the Learning Standards in Social Studies and the Social Studies Resource Guide with Core Curriculum; this preparation includes accessing resources and information, incorporating changes in historical scholarship over time into their instructional practice, and investing in continued professional development in the social studies to become lifelong learners


How can I get involved in the New York State Social Studies Initiative?

The Education Department has issued a Call for Expertise in social studies to support the initiative. You can apply to work in various capacities (e.g., curriculum projects, test development committees) with the State Education Department in social studies.

Last Updated: May 5, 2009