Buzzwords and inside baseball: 8 Utah ed questions clarified

March 31, 2021

1. What’s the difference between curriculum and standards?

Curriculum is the content taught in a course, field of study, program or school. In Utah, curriculum is chosen at the district level.

Standards, often described as state academic standards, detail what students should know or know how to do in a given course after completing the course curriculum. Unlike curriculum, standards are created at the state level by the Utah State Board of Education (USBE).

In practice, educators use standards to guide how they employ curriculum in the classroom.

2. What is assessment versus high stakes testing?

Assessment is a broad term for a number of different ways and approaches for testing a student’s knowledge. There are assessments used by individual teachers just as there are statewide assessments. Likewise, there are formative assessments and summative assessments.

Formative assessments usually happen throughout a course to evaluate how well the student is currently understanding the material, whereas summative assessments happen at the end of course to determine what they learned. Assessments, in general, can range from pop quizzes to asking students to draw a graphic of information learned to multiple choice tests, usually used in high stakes testing.

High stakes testing is associated with accountability for the test-taker (usually a student), the teacher and the school. Very often, high stakes testing is associated with getting education funds or consequences for the academic reputation of the school; it is at the heart of concern about “over-testing” among many parents and educators.

3. What is the state standards revision process?

Every few years, pursuant to a few triggers, the Utah State Board of Education revises and updates the state academic standards. This process includes the USBE approving the process, the creation of a standards review committee, report from the standards review committee to the board, a staff-created writing committee that develops draft standards, public review and comment period, additional review by the board, and finally full approval.

4. What are the current Utah civics graduation requirements?

Current Utah education policy requires that each high school student complete 3 credit hours (0.5 credits is usually a one-semester course) of social studies and pass a basic civics test, which has questions pulled from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services test. In order to fulfill the 3 credit hours students must complete 2.5 credits from among required courses in world history, geography and U.S. history, and a 0.5 credit course in U.S. government and citizenship (basically a one-semester civics course). The final 0.5 credit is in an elective course.

5. What are the different responsibilities in education policy for the Utah State Board of Education, the Legislature and the governor?

The Utah State Constitution creates the Utah State Board of Education (USBE). The board has “general supervision and control of public education” in the state, which today means they make rules within the bounds of the laws passed by the Legislature; create policy regarding state academic standards, statewide assessments, teacher licensure, and high school graduation; and interface with the U.S. Department of Education. 

According to the state constitution, the Legislature is charged with “provid[ing] for the establishment and maintenance of the state’s education systems,” which includes a public education system that is available for all students in the state. Utah’s courts have determined that this authority is unrestricted except by explicit or necessarily implied limitations in the Utah Constitution. This means they pass laws and fund public education, and that USBE rules that conflict with laws must be changed to conform with the law.

The governor’s power is limited to things like proposing the state education budget, appointing members of the USBE in limited circumstances (e.g., when a member resigns) and using the bully pulpit (what the governor champions in public speeches).

6. What is civics education versus social studies?

Civics education is a course of study intended to equip students with an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of United States citizenship, so they can become informed and engaged citizens. Civics education often includes basic knowledge about the creation and mechanisms of our federal, state and local governments and political institutions. It can also include skills and dispositions for participation in civic life including studying issues, voting, media literacy, and civility in public discourse.

Social studies is a broad umbrella of topics that represents an integrated study of the social sciences. Social studies includes humanities, history, geography, political science and very often civics.

7. What is “action civics”?

Action civics is a hands-on or applied approach to civics education that places students in real-world policy or political opportunities to learn about the mechanisms of governmental bodies. Action civics is also known as “project-based civics” or sometimes “service learning” when it incorporates community service. Utah adopted an action civics policy when the Utah Legislature passed a “civic engagement project pilot.”

There is some controversy around action civics. Opponents of this approach believe it promotes student activism over content knowledge, while proponents believe hands-on learning makes civics more relevant.

8. What is Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a way of viewing or analyzing the world that uses a lens of “the oppressors” and “the oppressed,” with a specific emphasis on race. CRT is a subset of Critical Theory, which in turn has roots in Marxist thought. CRT is likewise connected to Critical Legal Theory, which sees the law as being linked to social issues and having bias baked into it.

In short, according to CRT, oppressors use the law to further oppress others for their own benefit. CRT is the basis of controversial curricula such as the New York Times 1619 Project curriculum and antiracist curriculum. These resources are often used in social studies courses.

Supreme Court rules in favor of Catholic foster agency but leaves big questions for later

Supreme Court rules in favor of Catholic foster agency but leaves big questions for later

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a significant religious freedom decision this morning, with all the justices concluding that the city of Philadelphia violated the constitutional rights of a religious foster care agency, Catholic Social Services, when it “stopped referring children to CSS upon discovering that the agency would not certify same-sex couples to be foster parents due to its religious beliefs about marriage.”

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