Social Studies Level Up

Preparing for Ohio's State Tests Weekly Bulletin

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Preparing for Ohio's State Tests: Week 1

This is the first of seven weekly newsletters dedicated to helping teachers prepare students for Ohio's State Tests in American History and American Government. Each newsletter will feature one of seven identified best practices in teaching for mastery, and highlight some of the available resources.


Social Studies Level Up Goals

  • Increase passage rates on Ohio's State Test in American History from 50% to 65%.
  • increase passage rates on Ohio's State Test in American Government from 59% to 70%.


Best Practice 1: Teacher Clarity - Focus on Learning Targets

Key Points of Standards-Based Instruction

  • Implement a laser-like focus on the learning targets.
  • Unpacking learning targets is not the same thing as covering topics. Learning targets have a specific outcome that students need to master at a defined level.
  • Focus on the key concepts needed to master these targets (underpinning targets).
  • Clearly communicate the intended learning and monitor student progress toward learning target mastery.
  • Use the district’s Clear Learning Targets and “I Can Checklists” to guide instruction:
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Using Performance-Level Descriptors

The use of Performance-Level Descriptors (PLDs) has been identified as one of the Level Up initiatives in the High School Division. Based on discussion with High School Department Chairs at our January meeting, here are some thoughts regarding the use of PLDs with students.

  • The Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs) are intended to define what students should know or be able to do at each performance level -- Limited, Basic, Proficient, Accelerated, Advanced. PLDs generally reflect an increased level of thinking required for each category.

  • PLDs summarize learning expectations from Ohio's Learning Standards. They are not comprehensive or all-inclusive of everything students need to know and be able to do. The Clear Learning Targets are comprehensive and should guide daily instruction.

  • The use of various examples (designated with e.g. in parentheses) are illustrative, not comprehensive. In at least one instance, the American History PLDs incorrectly list information that students are not required to know from the standards--"the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles leading to the outbreak of WWII" is not part of the American History standards or state test; the treaty is only referenced in relationship to the end of WW I.

  • PLDs are written in technical, not student friendly language. As needed, break down the PLDs into more manageable chunks to share with students.

  • There is some concern that sharing all five performance levels with students will be intimidating and overwhelming for many students. Teachers should use discretion in how much to share with which groups of students. We want to show the challenge of state tests without risking students giving up hope. The first line of demarcation should be the difference between Basic and Proficient. From there, students can be challenged to reach beyond their own predicted expectations as appropriate.

  • EVAAS Projection Reports help identify which students may score beyond beyond Proficient. These students should be made aware of their potential achievement level and pushed to exceed minimum expectation. Instruction can be differentiated.

  • PLDs are abstract concepts, expressed as open-ended tasks. On state tests, however, the expectations are always framed in the form of a question with context and choices (multiple choice, multi-select, drag/drop, etc).


Clarifying Content Priorities

The Clarifying Content Priorities framework is a helpful tool in planning standards-based instruction. Under time constraints, and with high stakes, it is imperative to focus on Priority 1 and 2 content. Priority 2 content consists of paths to mastery of Priority 1. Priority 3 may helpful to add some additional context or enrichment, but it should not be the main focus of instruction.
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Areas of Focus

American History

Data from the past two years show that students are performing lower in 1945-Present reporting category, with about 45 percent scoring below proficient. No doubt, the large number of learning targets to be unpacked in this course makes it difficult to fully address the lessons that fall later in the year. That is one reason why a laser-like focus on the learning targets is imperative in the second semester.

There are several resources that allow for succinct unpacking of each learning target.

  • American History Student Review Guide provides a one-page summary of each learning target and content elaborations, accompanied by review questions and assessments.
  • The Quick Review is a one-page (front/back) review guide with bullet points of key vocabulary and concepts to know.
  • Ohio Test Prep modules include vocabulary activities, video tutorials, skills practice, and practice assessments for each lesson.

American Government

In American Government, the reporting category Ohio/Policy/Economy showed the lowest performance results, with about 33 percent below proficient. This category includes state and local government (learning targets 19-20), public policy-making (learning target 22), and the role of government in the economy (learning targets 23-24). Note that, while performance has been low in this category, it is also the category with the fewest number of questions/points available.

Resources for targeted instruction in these areas include:

  • American Government Review Slides include key ideas and practice assessments for each learning target.
  • The Quick Review is a one-page (front/back) review guide with bullet points of key vocabulary and concepts to know.
  • Ohio Test Prep modules include vocabulary activities, video tutorials, skills practice, and practice assessments for each lesson.


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Released Test Items

Released test items for American History and American Government are available via the Course Sites for each course. Use your CCS Google account to access these resources from the links below. If you get a 404D error, you are logged in to personal account not a CCS account.

Make a copy of each Google Doc to edit the items. Note that the released test items are also linked to the appropriate unit tabs so they can be incorporated into instruction throughout the year.



Matthew I. Doran

Secondary Social Studies Specialist

Office of Teaching & Learning

Curriculum Division

Southland Center

3700 S. High Street

Suite 125