State Board Will Review Social Studies Standards Earlier

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 | 2:52pm

Mr. B. Fielding Rolston, Chairman of the State Board of Education

As Chairman of the State Board of Education I have watched the remarkable improvements in Tennessee education brought on by rigorous standards and excellent instruction for the last seven years. Lately much has been said about seventh grade world history and discussions of Islam.

It is important to clarify the role of your State Board of Education in this process.

The State Board establishes the standards for K-12 education for the entire state. Standards are the sets of grade-specific goals, which define what all students are expected to know and what they should be able to do by the end of the grade or course.

Local districts determine the curriculum and instruction, adapting what classroom instruction looks like for the students and teachers. There are no State Board of Education requirements regarding the length of time to be devoted to any topic or guidelines on how that topic is taught in the classroom. It is always a local decision how long a particular topic is covered in the classroom, the textbooks and curriculum employed.

The current content of the social studies standards were created by a committee of Tennessee teachers and were available for the public to review and provide feedback prior to their adoption in July 2013. What students are expected to know about the history of all major religions has not significantly changed. The way that the standards are now structured for all grade levels sets the bar higher for student engagement and expectations.

World History is taught in sixth and seventh grade, and in high school. All major religions are covered in historical context starting with early civilizations through the decline of the Roman Empire in the sixth grade. It continues through the middle ages and the exploration of the Americas in the seventh grade. This includes religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Confucianism. The focus on each religion depends on the context and influence of the relevant time period.

This year the Tennessee General Assembly, building on the Governor’s standards review process and in coordination with the State Board of Education passed HB 1035 which set out a remarkably transparent and ground breaking process of ongoing standards review and revision. This is considered by many to be the most thorough and inclusive standards process employed anywhere in the nation. It involves teams of Tennessee educators, content matter experts, and a web based public comment process unparalleled in its openness. In just the last 6 months this process has taken in more than 100,000 reviews and comments on our current review of English Language Arts and Math standards. The educators and reviewers are committed to rigor and excellence for Tennessee’s children.

According to state policy, standards are reviewed at a minimum of every six years. This allows the Board the flexibility it needs to consider a set of standards earlier when the members feel it is appropriate. The members of the Tennessee State Board of Education will review the social studies standards two years earlier using the new Tennessee standards review process. As Chairman I can assure you that the state board will expect and require all of the standards that we approve to be rigorous and strong.

The social studies standards review website will be launched in January 2016 and we encourage all Tennesseans to utilize this opportunity to provide critical feedback.

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Mr. B. Fielding Rolston holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, a M.P.A in Public Administration from American University. He retired as Vice President of Eastman Chemical Company, where he worked for 38 years. Mr. Rolston represents the 1st Congressional District on the Tennessee State Board of Education, where he has served since 1996 as a member and since 2005 as Chairman.