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  Workshop 7: Controversial Public Policy Issues  
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Workshop 7

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Teacher Perspectives: Standards

JoEllen Ambrose: In our school district, I look to the national standards for guidance but it’s not a mandated part of the curriculum or what I teach. They coincide nicely with the Minnesota graduation standards and the profile of learning that we have because they were a model for them. Minnesota has tried to use content as an important piece of the standards, but also process. In the profile of learning, we have performance packages, which allow students to demonstrate their learning in higher-level areas. The citizenship standard asks students to simulate a decision-making process. The standard in the law course has them looking at community interaction. We try to assess the performance piece as well as the basic learning that comes with the content piece.

The profile has 10 different learning areas and standards. There is a standard on citizenship, and there’s a standard on community interaction and diverse perspectives and cultural understanding and [so forth]. Our school district has given us little flexibility in the standards that we choose to assess in a particular class. We only do one standard per course. We have a lot of curriculum offerings and it felt like each class needed a standard. Then it became an issue of, if we don’t have a standard, do we get to keep our course?

That became a very difficult issue for elective courses and required courses. We have four years of social studies--government, U.S. history, world history, economics, and law. The law class had to find a standard. They found community interaction, which [asks] students to go out in the community to assess how [an] agency works. When they placed that standard in the law class, it was of great concern to me because I felt we were losing our hold on a 12th-grade course that dealt with citizenship in a very serious way. We argued very strongly for it, and we didn’t get it. We are now an elective.

I’m comfortable with what the district did because we created choices for the 12th-grade law teacher. To teach community interaction, [students] could get involved in an issue--go out in the community, research the issue, find the lawmaking group or the decision-making group, and present the proposal. Another option would be to do 10 hours of community service and journal that experience. The third piece is to interact with an agency about a civil law topic. [For example], I say, “Okay, you’ve just rented a place and your house is falling apart. Who are you going to call?” and get them out there finding organization-based landlord-tenant groups or the attorney general’s office or whatever organization gives them information about law that they can use in their practical life.

Minnesota is on a timeline for developing high-standard content tests. Down the road, social studies is going to have those tests. When they develop a high-level content test, that’s going to weigh on me in terms of preparing students. I know when that comes into my world it’s going to be a different dynamic. It is causing a lot of stress and strain.


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