Kansas history, geography standards up for review

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas students would be asked to better understand the context of what they learn, not just memorize names and dates, under a new draft of history, geography and social studies standards that education officials are set to review this week.

The document, nearly two years in the making, will be presented Wednesday to the State Board of Education. There will be a public comment period this spring before the standards are formally adopted by the 10-member board. Students will take tests based on the standards starting in 2016.

Maureen Donegan, a social studies coordinator for the Olathe school district, said the standards reflect the changing way teachers are presenting history and government material to students, moving away from rote memorization of names, dates and places, and focusing on what those facts actually mean.

"We've just gotten to that point where we are raising the bar on what our students know and do," said Donegan, who also helped write the 2003 standards. "We need to help students understand how to take that changing information and how to apply it."

For example, students studying the period of Kansas statehood from 1854 to 1865 will learn about broader themes, including territorial days, the Civil War and slavery. The standards would still teach the most significant individuals from the period, such as President Abraham Lincoln and first governor Charles Robinson.

Under the standards, students would be expected to answer questions such as what factors settlers would consider before coming to Kansas, why people should fight for the rights of others and why were the beliefs about slavery important to the state's history.

This is the first revision of the social studies standards since 2003. Kansas typically revises its academic standards every seven years. The state board decided several years ago to delay those changes in order to prevent districts from incurring additional expenses during the economic recession.

Board member Carolyn Campbell, while agreeing with most of the new material, said she was concerned that the standards weren't prescriptive enough and that key elements of U.S. history would be ignored. Campbell is the only black member of the state board and questioned why some names and events were chosen as examples over others.

"I'm not buying the excuse of not wanting to be too descriptive," said Campbell, a Topeka Democrat. "I'm concerned about the teachers that still have a little bias on their hearts that will pick and choose how they help our young people relate.

"I'll be curious to hear their explanation," she said.

Donegan said the writing committee had that discussion but that the new standards take a narrative approach. While a few good examples should be used, such as the election of Obama in 2008 or particular battles in a war, Donegan said teachers should concentrate on piquing student interest in learning more and doing their own research and figuring it out how it applies to their lives.

"Hopefully this will give teachers the ability to let students go for it," she said.

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