In 2019, I wrote about how I began my year pre-assessing student performance on the skills central to the IDM: (1) making evidence-based arguments. As we approach the second half of the school year, I want to share new insights for preparing students to engage with inquiry. After 2019, and in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning, I altered how I consider student performance on their pre-assessment. My state requires historical thinking skills to be infused within the social studies curriculum. To fully infuse historical thinking skills into the content or into the planning stage of the IDM blueprint (standards and practices) I started creating precisely named performance level descriptors based upon the results of my students’ pre-assessment.

My pre-assessment centers around the historical thinking skills of gathering, interpreting, and using evidence and contextualization. Prior to 2020, I tended to evaluate initial student performance holistically. I would give students an overall rating based upon their entire performance of the historical thinking skills without a clearly defined and articulated dissection of what exactly students were able to do. This broad, holistic approach was not sufficient in deciphering student needs in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. For the last two years, we negotiated remote learning, masking mandates, social distancing, plastic partitions, hybrid learning schedules, deep cleaning protocols, and a host of other COVID mitigation strategies. These seismic shifts impacted the pedagogical practices we use in our inquiry-based and student-centered social studies classrooms. The consequences of these pedagogical shifts manifest themselves in student deficits within gathering, interpreting, and using evidence and contextualization. 

After students completed the pre-assessment, I created precisely named performance level descriptors. Within each of the historical thinking skills are more precise student performance indicators. Students who engage in the gathering, interpreting, and using evidence must, for instance, define and frame questions, identify, describe and evaluate evidence from primary and secondary sources, as well as, describe and analyze the arguments of others. Student performance levels require a precisely nuanced understanding of what exactly a student can do within these subcomponents of gathering, interpreting, and using evidence. 

Students’ pre-assessment work is grouped based upon the descriptors in order to design instructional scaffolding to support student growth as they work through formative performance tasks and the featured primary sources from the IDM template. Performance levels also help teachers plan optimal formative performance tasks and select documents that support the skill growth students need. Teachers can curate primary and secondary sources to help ensure student skills development is optimized. As students progress, teachers also use the performance levels to provide targeted feedback and growth targets for students. Models of student performance at each level can be provided to students to help students utilize self or peer feedback about their performance as they complete a performance task. Students and teachers both gain clarity around the skills that support inquiry, which supports the growth, not just of students, but also for teachers as we continually work to improve our craft. 

Performance levels are all about measuring students’ abilities to use important historical thinking and inquiry-based skills. If we wait for the summative performance tasks to measure student performance, it might be too late for interventions. What the pandemic revealed is the need to determine where students are, implementing even more scaffolding than we might be used to using, and explicitly naming those performance levels in order to get our students on to the next level.