Center for Civic Education

Research and Evaluation

Testing for Learning:
How New Approaches to Evaluation Can Improve American Schools


Ruth Mitchell
Council on Basic Learning
(The Free Press, a Division of Macmillan, Inc.
Copyright, 1992)

The national "We the People..." competition, run by the Center for Civic Education, has solved the problems of evaluating student performance in social studies with imagination, possibly because the designers are less daunted than are educators (other) by the authority of evaluation experts.

"We the People..." is almost a type case of performance assessment. It is a direct demonstration of students' ability to do what we expect after studying the Constitution and Bill of Rights: explain their history and background and apply them to other times and situations. The requirements for working in teams and the involvement of the community are not typical of performance assessment, but a good argument could be made that they should be.

The competition and the preparation for it have lasting effects on the student's learning. Teachers assert that the knowledge learned from the curriculum and the competition is drawn on all year. One teacher responded when asked if her students quickly forget the material once the competition is over, "Oh no, it becomes a background for the Advanced Placement U.S. history class. Over and over they refer back to such concepts as civic order to explain and put in context historical and modern events."

The competition has enormous potential as a model for the evaluation of history/social studies and government classes. It is the most imaginative and well-organized social studies assessment I know of -- more impressive than current ideas at the state level.

The mystery is why "We the People..." has not been seized as a model. The evaluation is faithful to the intent of social studies and government: understanding the Constitution's origins, how it works, and its application today.

Some inspired state testing director ought to realize the potential of the design for assessing history/social studies and work with the Center for Civic Education staff to adapt it for a statewide assessment.

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