Available Tools, Option J:
Comparison of Benchmarks
and Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

Estimated Time: 15 minutes.

List of Materials

Sample Presentation

TRANSPARENCY: SFAA, Benchmarks, Benchmarks on Disk Covers.

Presenter: The purpose of this activity is to become familiar with specific ideas in Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy that support components of the Curriculum Standards for Social Studies.

Since 1985, Project 2061 has produced two well-thought-out reports on "science literacy" that include social as well as natural sciences and also mathematics and technology. Science for All Americans (SFAA), published in 1989, describes goals for adult science literacy—concepts and information that all high school graduates should understand. Those recommendations were elaborated in Benchmarks for Science Literacy (Benchmarks) in 1993. The benchmarks specify learning goals for students as they progress through grade ranges K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 toward adult literacy.

The inclusion of learning goals regarding social sciences does not imply that Project 2061 sees the social studies curriculum as its province. Both Science for All Americans and Benchmarks are concerned chiefly with eventual outcomes and are pretty much silent on whether students would learn in science courses, social studies courses, or some kind of integrated schooling. Different states and districts will no doubt design a variety of curricula that are suitable to their own contexts.  

TRANSPARENCY: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies Cover.

Presenter: The social studies community may be interested, however, in learning what Project 2061 has recommended regarding the social sciences and how its recommendations might be of help in fleshing out the NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Project 2061 staff have inspected the Curriculum Standards closely and have identified areas where SFAA and Benchmarks deal with similar goals for understanding.

TRANSPARENCY: NCSS Standards—Related Benchmarks CHAPTERS and Sections.

Presenter: The pleasant outcome of their comparison is that as much as 40% of Curriculum Standards has supporting material in Benchmarks. In this summary view of the comparison, we see under each NCSS standard chapters and sections of Benchmarks where learning goals support that standard.

The specific examples we will look at today all refer to grade-range statements in Benchmarks, but please keep in mind that more coherent renditions of these ideas can be found in the corresponding sections of Science for All Americans, which has the same chapter and topical structure as Benchmarks. 

TRANSPARENCY: Labeling NCSS Performance Expectations for Benchmarks Comparison.

Presenter: Because the more detailed standard statements called "performance expectations" under each NCSS standard do not have labels, short-phrase labels were invented for each of them for purposes of the comparison. These labels were based on the brief account of performance expectations given for three different grade levels in Curriculum Standards on pages 33 to 45. In the example shown here, considering the statements made for early, middle, and high school grades, performance expectation b for Standard I: Culture was labeled "different interpretations of experience."

For each of the performance expectations of each NCSS standard, the comparison lists some sections of Benchmarks in which relevant ideas can be found. (Benchmarks are likely to be found for every grade range, but no distinctions among grade ranges were made in this comparison.) Sometimes the relationships between benchmarks and standards are obvious. For example, some relevant ideas for Standard I: Culture will certainly be found in Benchmarks Chapter 7: Human Society. This chapter includes the sections Cultural Effects on Behavior, Group Behavior, Social Change, Social Trade-Offs, Political & Economic Systems, Social Conflict, and Global Interdependence.  

Show only the first benchmark on the TRANSPARENCY: Benchmarks Related to NCSS Standard I: Culture.

Presenter: More specifically, performance expectation b under this standard, labeled "different interpretations of experience," will surely relate to benchmarks in the section Cultural Effects on Behavior. Perhaps many of the benchmarks in this section would be considered relevant, but certainly this example is.

Cultural Effects on Behavior, grades 6-8

Although within any society there is usually broad general agreement on what behavior is unacceptable, the standards used to judge behavior vary for different settings and different subgroups, and they may change with time and different political and economic conditions. 

Uncover other benchmarks on the transparency list as you refer to the benchmarks on Learning, Scientific Inquiry, and Critical Response Skills, respectively.

Presenter: Sometimes relevant material can be found in Benchmarks in unexpected places. For example, ideas relevant to NCSS performance expectation I-b—"different interpretations of experience"—can also be found in Chapter 6: The Human Organism (in the section Learning) and even in Chapter 1: The Nature of Science (in the section Scientific Inquiry) and Chapter 12: Habits of Mind (in the section on Critical-Response Skills). Here are some relevant benchmarks from those three sections.

Learning, grades 3-5

Learning means using what one already knows to make sense out of new experiences or information, not just storing the new information in one’s head.

Learning, grades 9-12

The expectations, moods, and prior experiences of human beings can affect how they interpret new perceptions and ideas. People tend to ignore evidence that challenges their beliefs and to accept evidence that supports them.

Scientific Inquiry, grades 6-8

What people expect to observe often affects what they actually do observe. Strong beliefs about what should happen in particular circumstances can prevent them from detecting other results. Scientists know about this danger to objectivity and take steps to try to avoid it when designing investigations and examining data.

Critical-Response Skills, grades 9-12

Suggest alternative ways of explaining data and criticize arguments in which data, explanations, or conclusions are represented as the only ones worth consideration, with no mention of other possibilities. 

TRANSPARENCY: Benchmarks Related to NCSS Standards: Chapter 1: The Nature of Science.

Presenter: As would be expected because of the similarities in social and natural sciences, many related Standards ideas are found in Benchmarks Chapter 1: The Nature of Science. Here are a few.  

TRANSPARENCY: Benchmarks Related to NCSS Standards: Chapter 11: Common Themes.

Presenter: Many examples of learning goals common to natural and social sciences can also be found in Benchmarks Chapter 11: Common Theme, including these benchmarks related to scale, constancy and change, models, and systems.  

TRANSPARENCY: Benchmarks Related to NCSS Standards: Chapter 12: Habits of Mind.

Presenter: Benchmarks Chapter 12: Habits of Mind also includes many goals of equal interest in social and natural sciences, such as these related to values and attitudes, communication skills, and critical-response skills.  TRANSPARENCY: Benchmarks Related to NCSS Standards: Chapter 8: The Designed World.

Presenter: Still another place in Benchmarks to find specific learning goals relevant to the social sciences is Chapter 8: The Designed World, which includes the sections Agriculture, Materials & Manufacturing, Energy Sources & Use, Communications, Information Processing, and Health Technology. Here are some examples from the section Agriculture.

Aside from the benchmarks themselves, Benchmarks for Science Literacy (both the book and disk versions) includes summaries of the findings from educational research for topics and discussion of issues in creating, expressing, and using specific learning goals. The "Also See" box at the beginning of each section in Benchmarks suggests where related topics can be found in other chapters.

At present, the social science content of Benchmarks is not widely known in the social studies education community. As NCSS Curriculum Standards and other reforms are implemented in social studies, social educators may benefit from looking carefully at Benchmarks, especially in the light of renewed attention to integration of social studies with the natural sciences and other subjects. A more detailed comparison of Benchmarks sections and Curriculum Standards is available on Project 2061’s CD-ROM disk Resources for Science Literacy: Professional Development.