11th Grade American History Writing Assessment: A History Grant and District Collaboration
Background, Questions, and Support Materials

In 1999 a committee of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) history/social teachers (K-12) took on the challenging task of developing a set of district-wide standards. The goal was to provide a concrete guide, in conjunction with the required topics of study, for the development of engaging and thought-provoking day-to-day instruction in history classrooms throughout the district. The outcome of that work was the adoption by the district of a set of K-12 history/social studies standards focused on five elements of historical thinking: 1) Chronological/Spatial Thinking; 2) Examining Evidence; 3) Diversity/Multiple Perspectives; 4) Interpretation; and 5) Determining Historical/Geographical Significance. These standards, in keeping with disciplinary requirements of historical investigation, support the development of students? historical understanding as they inquire into the meaning and significance of historical events and individuals. (The OUSD historical thinking standards can be accessed at http://teachingamericanhistory.us/standards/index.html)

In 2002, a second committee of OUSD high school history teachers began to investigate how a district-wide assessment program might support the integration of these standards into high school history classrooms across the district. In the spring of 2004, at the end of two year pilot program, OUSD high school history/social studies teachers voted to implement a district-wide, document based, writing assessment for students in 10th grade World History and 11th grade U.S. History. The adopted assessment program requires students to write to common, centrally developed, assessment questions twice each school year. The goal of this work is threefold: 1) to improve student ability to construct a coherent and thoughtful historical essay that uses primary and secondary sources to support an historical argument; 2) to enhance student and teacher knowledge and understanding of key issues and questions in American history; and 3) to promote equity across the district through common scoring sessions and staff development; ensuring that what constitutes quality work in one teacher?s classroom is comparable to what constitutes quality work in another teacher?s classroom.

Implementing the 11th Grade U.S. History Assessment ? A District and Teaching American History Grant Collaboration
Since 2002 the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Teaching American History grants (2001 ? present) have collaborated with the OUSD History/Social Studies Department to pilot, develop, and implement the 11th grade U.S. History strand of this assessment

A pool of six questions, tied to the California State History Standards for 11th Grade U.S. History, has been developed to focus this work. The six questions, three related to fall semester topics and three related to spring semester topics, are rotated yearly.

It is important to note that this assessment program is designed to support both student and teacher learning and success. With this in mind, teachers are provided the assessment questions, but not the source documents, well before the assessment is given so they can shape their instruction to support thoughtful student responses. Using the questions and knowledge of their students? academic skill levels as jumping off points, teachers design instructional materials to promote historical understanding and specific historical reading, writing, and thinking skills. The grant and district also collaborate to provide professional development for teachers that supports a deep analysis of the student work produced on these assessments and the development of responsive instructional materials.

In addition, the grant itself has developed a series of instructional support materials for teachers and students tied to specific assessment questions. These materials are focused on supporting student success by providing them the opportunity to work with the actual assessment questions and related sources before actually writing the essay. Like the work of individual teachers, the grant developed support materials also focus on the areas of historical writing and historical thinking identified as challenging for students. Much of this analysis of student work takes places at our district wide scoring sessions where representative samples of student papers are read and discussed. Key questions addressed at these scoring sessions include:

  1. What additional content knowledge and/or concepts would be helpful for students to know in order to write more successful essays? What patterns do you see?
  2. What strengths and weaknesses do you notice in the student writing?
  3. Are there any patterns of student misperceptions that you notice?

Assessment Questions and Support Materials Focused on Reading, Writing, and Thinking Historically
The assessment questions (subject to revision and change) are listed below. Next to the questions are links to support materials, developed through the Teaching American History Grant and district collaboration, to support student success. These materials are posted in a Microsoft Word format so individual teachers can modify them for their specific students and classroom context. The OUSD Teaching American History grant welcomes your feedback on these materials, and examples of revisions or refinements that enhance student learning in classrooms within and beyond the district.

Please email Stan Pesick, with comments and questions.