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New Report Highlights Civic Learning Opportunities and Outcomes

“Educators are actually our nation’s first responders for democracy,” said Jacqueline Rodriguez, AACTE vice president, policy, advocacy, and research, at the Educating for American Democracy and ETS Symposium.

Our democracy is facing deep challenges that demand an educational response. The Educating for American Democracy (EAD) Roadmap responds to this challenge, not through answers, but rich questions that animate the underlying themes and tensions of our democracy, ensuring students develop key civic capacities while engaging in civil discourse and civic friendship. The EAD Roadmap was the product of collaboration among more than 300 academics, historians, political scientists, K–12 educators, district and state administrators, civics providers, students and others representing viewpoint, professional and demographic diversity. Now in its implementation phase, the EAD initiative represents a call to action for investments in strengthening history and civic learning, and to ensure that civic learning opportunities are delivered equitably throughout the country.

U.S. K-12 teachers will play critical roles in implementing EAD, and those who train, support, and engage with teachers will need to help ensure that they have the necessary resources. A central resource will be assessments that ultimately inform investments, professional learning and overall progress.    

In July 2021, EAD partnered with ETS to convene a symposium on measuring civic-learning opportunities and outcomes. The symposium brought together practitioners, policy leaders, and researchers who shared their perspectives and visions on measuring civic learning. Our recently released follow-up report summarizes some of the key lessons from that symposium and identifies practical questions and solutions that educators (and those preparing them), funders, policymakers, researchers and other stakeholders should consider to support high-quality, equitable approaches to assessment of civic learning.

A sample of the guidance that emerged from the discussion includes the following:

  • Ensure that assessments don’t privilege certain cultural, linguistic or social contexts over others. To serve all learners and promote equity, assessments need to be designed in ways that ensure their relevance and responsiveness to learners from diverse backgrounds. This guidance applies to assessments in all disciplines but is particularly important to consider for assessments of civics because of the tight connection between civic engagement and the contexts in which children develop and learn.
  • Identify opportunities to integrate civic skills and dispositions into instruction and assessment in other disciplines. Civics shouldn’t be the responsibility of social studies teachers alone. Educators can promote civic learning through activities such as building argumentation skills as part of a science investigation, analyzing media messages in an English class, or integrating work within existing efforts in social and emotional learning.    
  • Create a system for large-scale monitoring of supports for civic learning. A robust and equitable strategy for improving civic learning will require supports at all levels of the education system. For example, teachers will need high-quality instructional materials, professional learning opportunities, adequate time in their schedules and guidance on how to navigate a contentious political climate. It is not enough that we measure student learning or teachers’ practices; we must measure how supports are distributed so that policymaking and funding can address disparities.    

These findings reinforce AACTE’s recent learnings from teacher-preparation faculty who discussed the importance of the civic mission of schooling and their support of EAD. As with much of AACTE’s learnings, our findings emphasize starting with a lens of equity to ensure that all students benefit from EAD’s potential, go beyond the silos in which civic learning is often pigeonholed and provide systemic support and resources to translate these ambitions of civic learning to reality. We know from national data that U.S. public school teachers are committed to promoting civic learning and it is incumbent upon the institutions that train and support teachers to help equip them to carry out that commitment.

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