By Curt Yeomans
Social studies teachers in Clayton County sometimes feel like the forgotten child in the family of core academic subjects.
For so many years, it was all "English, English, English," or "math, math, math" across the nation. Those are the areas of state standardized tests the Georgia Department of Education looks at when determining whether a school has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Lately, a statewide push has created a feeling of everyone being all "science, science, science," too.
Social studies, a field which includes a variety of topics ranging from politics to history and economics, is sometimes treated like the other child in the family. It is there, and it is important, but it is not the center of attention, except on rare occasions.
The only time in the last few years when social studies got the spotlight was a Criterion-Reference Competency Test crisis earlier this year. The flap was over the Georgia Department of Education issuing a social studies portion of the CRCTs for sixth- and seventh-graders, which did not match the curriculum designed by the state.
"It seems that social studies is the forgotten subject," said William Foster, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Rex Mill Middle School. "Nationwide, the attention has always been on math and English. Students are interested in social studies, though. Last year, my students really got into learning the history of Georgia.
"This year, the fact that there is a presidential election and the economy is in the news, has gotten their attention as well."
On Friday, while teachers across Clayton County spent their teacher work day in professional development sessions, the middle school and high school social studies teachers gathered at Sequoyah Middle School to discuss ways to improve test scores, and encourage more student interest in the subject.
"We're trying to bring the focus back to ALL four [academic] areas," said Stacy Odoms, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Adamson Middle School.
After an opening session on assessing student performance data, the group of teachers broke up to attend classes on a variety of social studies-related topics, ranging from Islam and politics, to teaching politics during an election year, to the rise of India and China, to cultural diversity in Metro Atlanta.
The classes were taught by professors from Emory University, Georgia State University, Clayton State University, and the University of West Georgia.
"In social studies, students are learning about civic literacy, and never before in U.S. history has civic literacy been as important as it is right now," said Michael Powell, the school system's coordinator for secondary social studies. "It doesn't matter if students are learning about government, history, geography, or economics, because all of those things impact civic literacy."
While the teachers hope to get social studies as much attention as English, math and science, the district is working to improve test scores on the social studies sections of the CRCT and the Georgia High School Graduation Test.
The social studies CRCT scores for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders were not available. However, 82 percent of high school juniors in Clayton County passed the social studies portion of the graduation test last year. The county's average score on that section was 514. Statewide, 86 percent of juniors earned passing marks on the social studies test, and the average score was 521.
Powell said the district is making moves to improve the scores on the standardized tests. More social studies teachers have been hired this year, as well as a new school improvement specialist for secondary social studies.