Social Studies Level Up

Preparing for Ohio's State Tests Weekly Bulletin

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Miss Week 1 of Social Studies Level Up? Click here to access.

Preparing for Ohio's State Tests: Week 2

This is the second 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.

Note: The practices outlined in this newsletter series are designed to increase standards mastery. They are useful in all courses, not just state-tested courses. While some direct test practice is necessary, the primary emphasis should be unpacking standards in meaningful and rigorous ways. Check out the article, "Beware the Test Prep Trap" by Jay McTighe for more information.


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 2: Rigor and Depth of Knowledge

Key Points of Rigor and Depth and Knowledge

  • Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs) generally reflect an increased level of thinking required for each category from Limited to Advanced. See the week 1 newsletter for more about PLDs.
  • Teachers should design learning activities that go beyond the cognitive rigor required for proficiency on state tests. Aim for the highest levels of mastery.
  • Cognitive rigor includes both the type of thinking required (Bloom’s Taxonomy) and depth of understanding (Webb’s DOK).


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Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy is a helpful tool for constructing learning targets and generating tasks/questions. Consider the example below.

Causes of the Great Depression


  • Task: List two causes of the Great Depression.
  • Response: Federal Reserve monetary policy and stock market speculation.


  • Task: Describe two causes of the Great Depression.
  • Response: The Federal Reserve adjusted its monetary policy to reduce the nation's money supply. Stock market speculators were buying on margin with the hope of making huge profits.


  • Task: Describe two causes of the Great Depression, and analyze how each action contributed to the onset of the Great Depression.
  • Response: The Federal Reserve adjusted its monetary policy to reduce the nation's money supply. This action worsened economic conditions by making it harder for people to repay debts and for businesses, including banks, to continue operations. Banks and businesses failed and people lost their jobs and income. Stock market speculators were buying on margin with the hope of making huge profits. When the stock market collapsed, investors could not afford to repay loans and lost their fortunes.


  • Task: Defend or critique the actions of the banking industry and the Federal Reserve in the years leading up to the Great Depression.
  • Response: The banking industry bears greater responsibility for the onset of the Great Depression. Banks engaged in risky practices of excessive lending and allowing investors to buy on margin. These practices started a chain reaction of events that led to business failures and poverty. Banks should have been more restrictive in loan practices. The Federal Reserve policy of monetary policy of reducing the money supply ultimately backfired because people could not repay their loans. However, the Federal Reserve really was forced to act to curb the easy credit practices of banks. By the late 1920s, it was too late for the Federal Reserve to correct the problems that led to the Depression.


  • Task: You are a policy advisor to the President in the 1930s. Use your knowledge of the causes of the Great Depression to create key recommendations that would prevent another economic disaster of this magnitude.
  • Response: To prevent another Great Depression the government must institute greater regulations on the banking industry and stock market. The Federal Reserve must exercise more centralized power over the banking system, and be more proactive in reducing the money supply before inflation rises to quickly. A regulatory organization should also oversee the stock market and prohibit the risky practice of buying on margin.


The Universal Exit Ticket

The Universal Exit Ticket is a tool developed by CCS Social Studies. This graphic organizer can be used as an exit ticket that provides a check for understanding beyond basic factual recall. Students must explain a "how" or "why" prompt created by the teacher.


Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK)

Webb's DOK defines how deeply students must know and understand what they are learning in order explain answers and solutions. DOK also describes how extensively students are expected to transfer and use what they have learned in different academic and real world contexts.

DOK levels are defined as:

  • DOK 1: Recall and reproduce data, definitions, details, facts, information, and procedures.
  • DOK 2: Use academic concepts and cognitive skills to answer questions, address problems, accomplish tasks, and analyze texts and topics.
  • DOK 3: Think strategically and reasonably about how and why concepts, ideas, operations, and procedures can be used to attain and explain answers, conclusions, decisions, outcomes, reasons, and results.
  • DOK 4: Think extensively about what else can be done, how else can learning be used, and how could the student personally use what they have learned in different academic and real world contexts.

Sean Junkins provides good examples of DOK in Social Studies in the graphic below.

Click on the image to enlarge the graphic.


Applying Webb's DOK in Social Studies

Karin Hess summarizes Webb's DOK and provides a sample alignment to social studies level descriptors in the article linked here.


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DBQs: High-Level Analysis and Evidence-Based Writing

DBQs are an excellent tool for teaching for high levels of mastery. DBQs require students to analyze sources, compare multiple perspectives, categorize ideas, construct arguments, and support arguments with evidence and reasoning. DBQs are one example of a DOK 4 task.

CCS Social Studies has provided hard copies of Mini-Qs in World History, Mini-Qs in American History and Mini-Qs in Civics from the DBQ Project. In addition to primary and secondary sources, these binders include ample scaffolding tools to make DBQs accessible for all students.

The DBQ Project 6-Step Method underpins the design of all Mini-Qs. Each step builds on students’ curiosity and increases motivation and confidence to answer a compelling, authentic question. Click here to read more about the DBQ Project Method.


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Evidence-Based Sets in Edulastic

On Ohio's State Tests, an Evidence-Based Set is a group of several questions associated to one or more common stimuli. Evidence-based sets allow students to work with primary source materials to show deep understanding of social studies topics. The questions in these sets will assess a range of skills and content in the content statements.

In addition to the sets available in the released test items, sample Evidence-Based Sets are available in Edulastic.


Matthew I. Doran

Secondary Social Studies Specialist

Office of Teaching & Learning

Curriculum Division

Southland Center

3700 S. High Street

Suite 125