Civics360: A New Resource for Civic Education



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Good morning, friends in Civics. Over the past few years, teachers here in Florida and elsewhere in the United States have made heavy use of the Escambia Civics Review Site. We do believe that the partnership with Escambia County and the willingness of that district to host and share resources for teaching and learning has been beneficial for everyone. Over time, however, requests have been made and ideas contemplated about improvements that could be made to make that site even better. These requests and ideas include more student friendly videos, more helpful assessment tools, and resources for ESOL students and struggling readers. With that in mind, the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, in partnership with Escambia County Schools,  is excited to announce the launching of a new Civics review site that will, later this summer, replace the currect Escambia Civics Review Site: Civics360. Civics360 is free to all registered users, much like our current Florida Citizen website. This site is now live and available for your use.

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So what are the new features you will find in Civics360? Take a look at the orientation video below, which walks you through the registration process, and read the rest of the post to learn about what we hope will be a useful resource for you and your students.

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Register Now for the 2019 Florida Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference!

Heroes and Villains. Social Studies is FILLED with heroes and villains, rogues and legends, great deeds both big and small, and oh so much controversy!


So let’s learn about and talk about it! Let’s see what we can share about heroes and villains, and teaching difficult issues in difficult times! This year’s Florida Council for the Social Studies annual conference, Heroes and Villains: Teaching in a Polarized World, would LOVE to have you join us October 18-20, 2019 here in Orlando. It will be an excellent opportunity to network and learn and grow together, and explore issues and topics that meet a variety of interests and needs. We will be sending out invitations to presenters soon, and we cannot wait to let you know who will be joining us and what we will be exploring. Come, be a hero, fight those villains, and connect with other social studies educators from across the state of Florida! You can register for the conference here! 

Teaching the Holocaust in Florida…and Everywhere Else


You may have recently seen news reports about a principal in the Palm Beach area who suggested that because there were those that question the Holocaust, he had to be ‘neutral’ in any instruction or approach to learning about the Holocaust.  This principal has since been reassigned and the district has recommitted itself to improving instruction on the Holocaust, as mandated by Florida statute. 

Senator Marco Rubio plans on introducing the ‘Never Again Act’ which will “help states obtain resources from the U.S. Department of Education to teach students about the Holocaust.” This can only be a good thing. But it also reflects the position of both the Florida Council for the Social Studies and the National Council for the Social Studies that more and better resources must be provided to ensure adequate instruction about the Holocaust. Last year, the Florida Council submitted to NCSS the following resolution, intended to prevent errors in judgement as seen in Palm Beach:

Resolution # 18-03-1
Advocating Improved Holocaust Education and the Provision of Necessary Resources
Sponsor: Florida Council for the Social Studies

Co-Sponsors: Colorado Council for the Social Studies, Connecticut Council for the Social Studies, Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies, Human Rights Education Community

Rationale: Recent events in Florida, Virginia, and elsewhere in the United States have raised questions about the ways in which we as educators approach and teach the events of the Holocaust.1
As of 2017, only eight states mandate instruction on the Holocaust, and increasingly we as citizens and educators are losing access to those survivors and eyewitnesses, living primary sources who can serve as resources for education and remembrance.2
Research suggests that in some cases, when it is taught, the approach often focuses on shock value and shallow interpretations rather than roots and policies. At the
same time, the Holocaust is often approached as a “controversial issue” that requires “balance.”3
As social studies educators, we have an obligation to understand what we are teaching to
confront the facts of events like the Holocaust. Educators must be knowledgeable, understand the purpose and function of Holocaust education, and use age-appropriate materials to ensure that students gain a comprehensive understanding of
this dark time in world history.4

WHEREAS: anti-Semitic acts of violence are on the rise in the United States, reaching nearly 2,000 unique events in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League 5; and

WHEREAS: in contradiction to the limited state policies that do exist, some district and school administrations throughout the country have suggested that educators approach the Holocaust as a “controversial issue” that requires “balance,” while general knowledge about the Holocaust continues to decline; and

WHEREAS: a number of excellent, proven, and grade level appropriate resources exist for teaching about the Holocaust; and

WHEREAS: the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) has an obligation to support accurate quality instruction and to support members in the field;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: that NCSS support the teaching of the Holocaust as an absolute fact without mitigating circumstances that require a consideration of “balance”; establish a clearinghouse of resources and instructional tools on that can be used to teach about the Holocaust; support professional development opportunities that will improve teacher understanding of the Holocaust; and support a 50-state effort to mandate quality K-12 Holocaust education.

1. Colleen Wright and Marlene Sokol, “What Teachers Can and Can’t Say. Did a
Citrus County Educator’s Podcast Cross the Line?” Tampa Bay Times (March
6 2018), and Emma
Green, “Why the Charlottesville Marchers Were Obsessed with Jews,” The
Atlantic (August 15, 2017),
2. New Campaign Seeks to Mandate Holocaust Education in all 50 States, www.
3. Louis Llovio, “Teaching the Complexities of the Holocaust a Challenge for
Teachers,” Richmond Times-Dispatch (Oct. 25, 2015),
local/education/city-of-richmond/teaching-the-complexities-of-the- holocaust-achallenge-for-teachers/article_83ad4ee0-a0b9-5646-a644-6e7abfd37f08.html;
Aleksander Kwasniewski, “On Holocaust Education” Opinion, The New York
Times (June 28, 2010),
html and Maggie Astor, “Holocaust Is Fading From Memory, Survey Finds,”
The New York Times (April 12, 2018),
4. D. Lindquist, “A Necessary Holocaust Pedagogy: Teaching the Teachers,” Issues
in Teacher Education 16, no. 1 (2007): 21–36.
5. 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents,

As the resolution suggests, social studies teachers in Florida are dedicated to teaching the Holocaust as it deserves to be taught, and we must be clear that this is not an issue that requires ‘balance’ in instruction. Rather, it is an evil to which we say “Never Again”, and that “Never Again” can only be achieved through proper instruction, preparation, and resources, both in Florida and nationwide.

Some Immediate Thoughts on the Florida Civics EOCA Scores

So as most civic educators here in Florida are likely aware (judging by the obsessive reloading of the FLDOE website during workshops I attended last week 😉 ), the scores for the state End of Course Assessment in Civics have been released. And the news overall is positive!

2019 civics scores

Scores remained remarkably consistent overall, with the state’s overall average at 71 percent of ALL students taking the exam scoring a 3 or better (though 7th graders actually improved over last year’s numbers!). In fact, the percentage of students scoring at least a 4 actually went up!

achivement level overall

Looking at the scores among the three largest demographics in the state (white, black, Hispanic), scores were mostly stable, though the percentage of Hispanic students scoring at least a 3 or 4 actually went up!

race ethnicity

Of course, the concern remains that there is still a significant gap between some groups of students, and our job is to work on closing that gap. In pursuit of that effort, FJCC is excited to have launched the Civics Community Collaborative in Orange County, working with teachers in the most needful schools on ways in which we can begin to try and close the civics achievement gap! We are also re-emphasizing our online Canvas courses for new, beginning, and even veteran civics teachers that focus on what is necessary to make civics a success.  We will be opening a new cohort to interested participants soon, in addition to the sections already available for OCPS teachers within the Collaborative.

Looking at the district data overall, far more districts made gains than suffered declines, and that is GOOD news! Some big ones stood out to me. Baker went from 58% to 71% at 3 or better, which is HUGE! Those teachers there have made such huge strides, and we have done some amount of work with some of the folks there as well through the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium and other workshops and support opportunities. But this is mostly on the students and their incredible teachers! The same goes for Gilchrist, which went from 73% to 85%, Hardee, which went from 48% to 60% (wow!), Okeechobee, which jumped from 51% to 59%, Union, which went from 65% to 79% (double wow!),

Some other districts also made some notable jumps. Columbia, Flagler, Gadsden, Gulf, Highlands, Holmes, Monroe, Nassau, Sarasota, Suwannee, Taylor, and Washington all increased at least 5 percentage points in the percentage of students scoring at least a 3. many of these are small rural districts, and while they didn’t all hit the state average, they all deserve a great deal of kudos for making such wonderful gains!

We would be remiss if we didn’t make a special mention of Bay County. Bay County, in our state’s Panhandle, dropped from a 76% to a 74%. They still exceeded the state’s percentage, but a drop is an area of concern no matter the overall result. But, friends, Bay suffered MASSIVE damage and devastation to its schools as a result of the horrific Hurricane Michael.

evacuation+zones+bay+county (1)

Schools remained closed and kids and teachers ran on half-schedules for MONTHS, and so many members of the community remain homeless even today. Dropping only 2% is, in our eyes, simply amazing, and kudos to everyone in the district for what is a true success. And kudos to their district social studies supervisor, Ms. Alana Simmons, for the hard and non-stop work she put in with her teachers and schools every day to make sure things were as normal as they could be, and helping prepare those kids and teachers to succeed on that Civics EOCA.

Do we as a state have work to do? Of course. We cannot be satisfied with scoring as well as we did last year, and we here at FJCC are going to do our best to try and make a difference where we can. And we continue to work on areas of opportunity for civic engagement models on the part of students. But, friends and fellow civics educators, we should all be proud of where we are as a state in civic education. We are, indeed, a leader in civic education. 

Recognizing Juneteenth and Learning about Slavery Through the Civics Renewal Network


On June 19, 1865, slavery in Texas was officially abolished, ending slavery throughout the former Confederacy (reinforced through the adoption of the 13th Amendment). Today, we recognize this day as Juneteenth, a celebration and recognition of emancipation and the fragile next step in extirpating the United States of America’s darkest history of slavery and racism.  45 states now recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of observance.

There is so much to learn about this dark history of the United States, and about the end of slavery and the ongoing fight for civil rights and the ways in which we work to overcome this dark history and fight for the principles promised in our Founding Documents. If you are looking for a good collection of diverse resources around these issues, I encourage you to check out what is available at the Civics Renewal Network. The link provided will take you to a search related to the 13th Amendment, but you can find so much more depending on the search terms you use.

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2019 Teach-In: Integrating Experiential Learning of Trial Techniques in Middle & High School Government/Civics Classes

Friends in civics and government, on behalf of the Department of Legal Studies, Center for Law and Policy, I am sharing this upcoming professional development opportunity with you. On Friday, 28 June, the department is hosting a teach in at UCF that dives into using mock trials in the classroom. This could be a good and free experience to get some hands on play with the practice of an important element of civics instruction! The agenda is below.

teach in

For more information and to register, please contact Katie Connolly at or Dr. Marc Consalo at

Come Present at the 2019 Florida Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference!


My friends and fellow social studies educators, it is time to share your heroic ideas for social studies teaching and learning. Are you a practicing or retired teacher, teacher educator, researcher, or pre-service student? Do you know of better ways to reach ELL students in the social studies? Do you have a brilliant session on mindfulness you believe would benefit our community? Do you have research on best practice that would make a difference for teachers and students? Is there a great content session that you are eager to share with folks, whether that is relating to LGBTQ+ history and pedagogy or a new approach to considering the Founding Fathers? Is there a discussion of assessment that you want to have with like minded (and even not so like minded) colleagues? What about new ways to approach controversial issues?

If you have any of this, or more, join us in the fall at the Florida Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference, October 18-October 20 at the Florida Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando! Proposals are being accepted until June 15th, and we are eager to learn from you. This year’s theme is Heroes and Villains: Teaching in a Polarized World. We want YOU to present to and learn from your colleagues and friends!

You can submit your proposal through this link: Conference Proposals. We really hope to have you join us!

2019 FCSS Annual Conference!

We are all social studies teachers. We all teach, ultimately, the values of good citizenship, of civic life, and of what it means to be a participant in this great experiment we call the American nation. And, at its core, we teach our students that we should all want to be heroes in our own way. There are so many different examples of the ways that we as social studies teachers impart these lessons. Why not come share and learn from each other about this? Register to present, sponsor, or, wonderfully, attend and learn from your colleagues and friends at this falls Florida Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference!


The Florida Council for the Social Studies is accepting session proposals for the 2019 FCSS Conference at Florida Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando, Florida on October 18 – 20, 2019.

Submit your session proposal prior to June 1, 2019 –

· Presenters will be notified by July 15, 2019

· Presenters of accepted sessions must register by August 15, 2019 to confirm participation in the conference

Information about the FCSS conference can be found at:

Online registration is available at

Plan your stay!

The FCSS Conference hotel rate is $131 per night . The Florida Hotel and Conference Center $18.00 per day for amenities is waived. Reservations must be made prior to September 26, 2019.

An Overview of Civics in Florida

In 2010, the Florida Legislature unanimously adopted the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act, which created a new statewide emphasis on civic learning. It required (1) that all middle school students complete a required course in civics; (2) that all middle school students (approximately 200,000 per year in Florida) take the statewide End-Of-Course Assessment (EOCA) at the end of 7th grade, which determines 30 percent of their grade for the year; (3) that civics content be included in the reading portion of the state’s English and Language Standards at every grade level from kindergarten through 12th; and (4) that student scores on the civics EOCA be incorporated into the computation of school grades under Florida’s School Accountability System (CS/HB 105, 2010). The EOCA is a multiple-choice assessment with approximately 60 questions aligned to the Florida middle school civics benchmarks. The four reporting categories that make up the middle school civics course include Origins and Purposes of Law and Government; Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities of Citizens; Government Policies and Political Processes; and Organization and Function of Government. Since the implementation of the assessment, student achievement has risen across all demographics, and 71% of all students taking the assessment during the 2017-2018 testing cycle passed the assessment with an achievement level of at least 3 (on a scale of 1 through 5).

The Four Reporting Categories

The four reporting categories within the civics course were developed by a committee of stakeholders to address areas of importance within civic learning while also seeking to differentiate the course from US History and, to a lesser degree, US Government. While the number of benchmarks in each category differ, there is clear evidence of a focus on the workings of government, the roles and responsibilities of citizens, and what we refer to as ‘Founding Documents’, particularly the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.

Within each reporting category are a number of benchmarks that address the content to be taught. It is important to note, however, that these benchmarks are further broken down in the FLDOE Civics Test Item Specifications into Benchmark Clarifications, Content Limits, and Content Focus Terms. It is important to keep in mind that the Civics EOCA Test Item Specifications were created after the release of the Sunshine State Standards for Civics, which occurred in 2008. As such, the clarifications, limits, and content focus terms build on what may be left out of or be unclear in relation to the original standards and benchmarks.

The Benchmark Clarifications

The Benchmark Clarifications, it could be argued, are perhaps the most important element of the Civics Test Item Specifications. These clarifications provide deeper guidance to stakeholders on what to teach. Consider for example, Benchmark SS.7.C.3.12, which covers significant court cases that students should be familiar with. Table 1 provides an overview of the benchmark and related clarifications.

Benchmark Analyze the significance and outcomes of landmark Supreme Court cases including, but not limited to, Marbury v. Madison, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Gideon v. Wainwright, Miranda v. Arizona, In re Gault, Tinker v. Des Moines, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, United States v. Nixon, and Bush v. Gore.
Benchmark Clarification 1 Students will use primary sources to assess the significance of these U.S. Supreme Court cases.
Benchmark Clarification 2 Students will evaluate how these U.S. Supreme Court cases have had an impact on society.
Benchmark Clarification 3 Students will recognize and/or apply constitutional principles and/or rights in relation to the relevant U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Table 1: 2012 FLDOE Civics End-of-Course Test Item Specifications (FLDOE, 2012, p. 65)

In looking at the benchmark and clarifications provided in Table 1, note that it explains not only what aspects students need to know, but how they will be expected to demonstrate it. These emphasize the use of primary sources, critical thinking, and constitutional principles; indeed, this is reflective of the Test Item Specifications as a whole.

The Content Limits

‘Content Limits’, as defined by the Test Item Specifications, “define the range of content knowledge and degree of difficulty that should be assessed in the test items for the benchmark” (FLDOE, 2012, p. 16). In other words, they provide the teacher (and the students!) information on what they do not have to know in order to meet the expectations of this benchmark. For our sample Benchmark SS.7.C.3.12, for example, the Content Limit states that “Items will not require students to recall specific details of any U.S. Supreme Court case (FLDOE, 2012, p. 65). Within this context, then, students need to know the broad parameters and underlying constitutional principles about a particular case, but not specific details.

Content Focus Terms

‘Content Focus Terms’ address content not necessarily referenced in the benchmark or benchmark clarifications but should be known in order to demonstrate proficiency within the limits of that benchmark. Table 2 provides an example of the content focus for SS.7.C.3.12.

Benchmark Analyze the significance and outcomes of landmark Supreme Court cases including, but not limited to, Marbury v. Madison, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Gideon v. Wainwright, Miranda v. Arizona, In re Gault, Tinker v. Des Moines, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, United States v. Nixon, and Bush v. Gore.
Benchmark Clarification 1 Students will use primary sources to assess the significance of these U.S. Supreme Court cases.
Benchmark Clarification 2 Students will evaluate how these U.S. Supreme Court cases have had an impact on society.
Benchmark Clarification 3 Students will recognize and/or apply constitutional principles and/or rights in relation to the relevant U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Content Focus These terms are given in addition to those found in the standards, benchmarks, and benchmark clarifications. Additional items may include, but are not limited to, the following: District of Columbia v. Heller, juvenile rights, rights of the accused, and segregation.

Table 2: 2012 FLDOE Civics End-of-Course Test Item Specifications (w/Content Limit) (FLDOE, 2012, p. 65)

Within the context of this benchmark, then, students are also expected to be familiar with specific terms that connect to constitutional principles (such as the rights of the accused), specific case language (segregation and juvenile rights), and an additional significant court case that occurred between the adoption of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for Social Studies and the drafting of the Civics End of Course Assessment Test Item Specifications.

Taken together, the Benchmark Clarifications, Content Limits, and Content Focus Terms provide an explicit and detailed overview of what teachers are expected to teach and what students are expected to know for civics in Florida. So let us turn our attention to the four standards and consider what areas are covered throughout this course.

The Four Standards

The four main standards provide a course-long overview of what needs to be taught throughout the course. Each standard contains a particular number of benchmarks. All told, there are 40 benchmarks across 40 standards, and of these, 35 are directly assessed. A close review of the standards demonstrates the breadth of Florida’s approach to civics and the heavy emphasis placed on the Constitution and the structure and function of government.

Origins and Purposes of Law, Government, and the Political System

Table 3: Overview of Standard One

The first standard addresses the path towards the development of the US Constitution, beginning with the Enlightenment ideas that influenced the Framers and continuing through the drafting and implementation of the US Constitution. Generally speaking, students are expected be able to understand the arguments of the Declaration of Independence, know how the ideas of Montesquieu and Locke influenced the Founding Fathers, identify the problems with the Articles of Confederation, contrast the views of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, explain the responsibilities of government as described in the Preamble, and understand separation of powers and checks and balances. There is a heavy focus in this standard on early principles that shaped an approach to American representative government.

Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities of Citizens

Table 4: Overview of Standard Two

The second standard dives deeper into elements of citizenship and civic engagement with government. It is a relatively broad category, covering elements of citizenship, our obligations, rights, and responsibilities under the Bill of Rights and our representative democratic system, elections, the media, and multiple perspectives. This standard also includes benchmarks that have students engaging in the practices of civic life, including elections, the justice system, and public policy. It should be noted here that much of this standard does indeed draw on the idea that the responsibilities of citizenship are just as important as the rights of citizenship.

The Principles, Functions, and Organization of Government

Table 5: Overview of Standard Three

The third standard goes heavy into the US Constitution, particularly Articles I, II, and III. In order to demonstrate proficiency within this category, students must learn how government is supposed to function, the powers of the three branches, the lawmaking process, the role of the courts, significant cases, and how federalism works. This standard also covers the expansion of rights through the amendment process and students also touch on the Florida Constitution. Again, however, we continue to see a heavy emphasis on the US Constitution.

US and the World

Table 6: Overview of Standard Four

The final overarching standard within Florida’s civics course dives into US foreign and domestic policy. This includes having students consider US foreign conflicts throughout the 20th and 21st century and understand the different ways each was addressed. Students are also expected to understand the difference and relationship between US foreign and domestic policy and citizens can engage with international organizations of various stripes. Interestingly, this standard’s focus on US foreign policy goes beyond the expectations of civics courses in many other states.

The Civics End of Course Assessment

Florida’s civics end of course assessment is a selected response assessment, developed in collaboration with Pearson, and has been a mandatory assessment for middle schoolers in Florida since 2013. The Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Education Act does not require students to pass the exam, but it does require schools to count the exam as 30% of a student’s final grade in the course. The exam itself draws directly on the learning expectations and content found in the Civics End of Course Test Item Specifications, which itself includes sample items that preview the assessment. Teaching to the standards, benchmarks, and benchmark clarifications will best prepare students to succeed.  So what does this assessment look like?

The Structure of the Civics End of Course Assessment

The End of Course Assessment contains 52-56 items, on average, with some small variable number of these items being piloted in each testing cycle, thus not counting towards the final score. While the expectation is that students will complete the test in 160 minutes, in practice most schools provide students with as much time as they need to complete it. Each item on the assessment has a question and four options to choose from; the Civics End of Course Test Item Specifications provide item writers (and really all stakeholders) with clear instructions on how to construct said items, including appropriate wording, the use of plausible distractors, parallelism, and types of stimulus (FLDOE, 2012, pp. 2-4). At the same time, the item specifications make clear that the “… reading level of the test items should be grade 7, except for specifically assessed Civics terms or concepts” (FLDOE, 2012, p. 2).

One of the issues that often causes confusion for stakeholders is the difference between item difficulty and item cognitive complexity. Simply put, the cognitive complexity of items is stable from year to year, while at the same time, item difficulty might change depending on the students that take the test in a particular testing cycle. The psychometricians that deal with validity, reliability, and scoring of the assessment cannot identify item difficulty until after students have taken the test. Figure 1 illustrates the determination of item difficulty.

item difficulty
Figure 1: Item Difficulty

Item difficulty, then, refers to how many students might get a question correct; it can change with each administration of the assessment. Cognitive complexity, on the other hand, remains consistent and is identified at the formal item review that takes place each fall to review new sets of items provided by Pearson. Cognitive complexity, in simple terms, refers to how many mental steps students must go through in order to answer a question. The Florida Civics End of Course Assessment uses Webb’s Depth of Knowledge as a complexity framework, and items are classified as being low, moderate, or high complexity items. It should be noted, as well, that you can have an item that is low complexity and high difficulty; remember that difficulty is about how many students get the question correct. Page 12 of the Florida Civics End of Course Assessment contains an overview of activities across cognitive complexity levels in order to provide teachers with guidance on both instruction and assessment. A large part of each assessment is made up of moderate complexity items; table 7 provides a breakdown of cognitive complexity in relation to test construction.


Table 7: Percentage of Points by Cognitive Complexity Level for Civics EOC Assessment

The Development, Review and Revision Process

Since the beginning of the Civics End of Course Assessment development process, items have been provided to the Test Development Center (a division of the Florida Department of Education) by Pearson. Each year, Pearson provides approximately 150 to 200 new items for review and eventual piloting across upcoming testing cycles. These items are developed in a collaboration between Pearson and state assessment personnel, and follows a generally fixed process, and are generally intended to provide new items across every benchmark.

At the start of the development cycle, Pearson provides item writers (none of whom are practicing Florida teachers in order to avoid conflicts of interest) with a set item order of anywhere between 15 and 25 items on average. Writers are provided with the benchmark, benchmark clarification, content focus term (if applicable) and cognitive complexity level they are asked to write to. These are then submitted to Pearson for internal review and approval and provided to the state for the next phase of the review process. There are a number of steps within that process that involve a back and forth between the Social Studies Test Development Coordinator and Pearson, but eventually, items go out to a committee of community members and eventually educators.

The Bias and Sensitivity Committee reviews items for areas of concern that could cause potential issues for students and provide a report on identified issues to the Social Studies Test Development Coordinator and to Pearson. This report is then shared with Item Review Committee. This last committee is made up of practicing civics teachers, teacher leaders, district social studies supervisors, and content area experts, and their main task is to review the penultimate draft of items for a number of areas. Figure 2 provides an overview of what these item reviewers are looking for.


Figure 2: The Item Review Process

Each individual at the table during item review brings with them experience in or expertise with civics instruction and content as addressed by Florida’s benchmarks, and is assigned one particular role during the process. One person may be tasked with identifying the cognitive complexity (which may differ from that identified by the original item writer), for example, while another may be asked to ensure that the content of the item is accurate. However, following the initial table response on an item, each reviewer is allowed to provide a perspective across each of the 9 areas addressed in Figure 2. Pearson ensures that they have staff present to assist in revising items that may require some additional work. Once items have been accepted, they are then sent on to the psychometricians, who will determine validity and reliability through piloting them items on upcoming assessments.

This brings us, then, to instruction. What does all of this look like in the classroom?

What Gets Taught in the Civics Classroom?

Research done under the auspices of the Lou Frey Institute and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement following the 2015-2016 testing cycle provides a general perspective on teaching the civics benchmarks in Florida classrooms. The research summarized in this section is provided in greater detail in a report authored by Dr. Racine Jacques and provided at the Lou Frey Institute website ( The reader is encouraged to review the report available at the provided link.

As mentioned earlier, 35 of the 40 benchmarks are directly assessed by the end of course assessment. The other 5 are grouped with connected benchmarks and assessed through them. According to research, coverage is a significant issue and an area of concern. Approximately half of the more than 400 civics teachers that were surveyed felt that they were unable to adequately cover all assessed benchmarks over the course of the school year. Looking at the data, the average number of omitted benchmarks was 3. One of the most common groups of benchmarks that were omitted come from Standard 4 and related to a consideration of US foreign policy within a civics education context. This was likely less because of difficulty and more because they simply ran out of time to cover the material. Figure 3 provides and illustration of which benchmarks were most often omitted from instruction.

Figure 3: The Most Common Omitted Benchmarks

At the same time, respondents felt that they had some significant issues in adequately instructing students in some benchmarks.  SS.7.C.2.12, for example, is an action civics oriented benchmark that asks students to involve themselves in considerations of public policy. Other areas of concernfrom a recent survey of Florida social studies district supervisors include SS.7.C.2.5, around individual rights; SS.7.C.2.10, around the ways in which media, individuals, and interest groups impact government; SS.7.C.3.4, around federalism; and SS.7.C.3.5, around the amendment process. Anecdotal observations by FJCC staff, gained through work with practitioners, also indicate significant instructional concerns around the many Supreme Court cases and constitutional principles contained in SS.7.C.3.12.

As described in the survey, the reasons for both difficulty of instruction and lack of instruction generally boiled down to 3 main explanations: student responsibility, teacher responsibility, or structural constraints. Student responsibility often boiled down to the supposed inability of the student to learn the material, while teacher responsibility pointed to issues with teacher content knowledge. Structural constraints could, in short, be retitled as ‘Issues with time’; for the most part, respondents who identified structural constraints as an issue struggled to cover the material adequately in the time provided. For more information on this aspect of the research survey, please read the original report available at

How Does Civics Get Taught in Florida Classrooms?

One of the areas of interest that the aforementioned study asked respondents to consider was how they actually approach civics instruction. Perhaps not surprisingly considering the content of the civics course, more than 90% of teachers claimed to address current events a number of times throughout the year, which 3/4ths of all teachers claiming they address current events every week. A similar fraction of teachers also involved their students in civic learning through the use of computer games, primarily using the popular ‘iCivics’ platform ( Almost 40% of teachers said they involved students in debates at least once or twice a month. It should be noted here, however, that how they involve students in debates what these debates look like is not clear. Involving students in ‘lived civics’ does occur to at least some degree. Mock elections, mock trials, service learning, and classroom discussions and debates all had some level of participation.

When it comes to resources, Figure 4 provides a good overview of the most used resources among respondents to the survey.

Primary Resources

Figure 4: Primary Instructional Resources

Based on the data, resources from iCivics and the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship (FJCC) are the most commonly used resources for civics instruction. iCivics is perhaps best known for its games, while FJCC ( offers a more diverse collection of tools, including lesson plans, content videos, practice assessments, and more. More recently, FJCC launched Civics360 (, with more than 100,000 registered users and a student-oriented approach to instructional tools (note that Civics360 did not exist at the time of the original research summarized here). For a deeper discussion of resource selection and implementation, please read the original report available at


A Word on Florida’s National Reputation

Any summary of civic education in Florida would be lacking without some mention of Florida’s national reputation for civic learning and instruction. Since the passage of the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act, national attention has focused on Florida as one of the few states with a mandatory and comprehensive civics course at any level, let alone one with a high stakes assessment attached to it. The CivXNow Coalition, made up the nation’s leading philanthropic, academic, and instructional supports of civic education, has identified Florida’s model of success as one for states to emulate:

“If every state enacted a policy like Florida’s–and consistently supported that legislation with funds for professional development, materials, assessment, and other interventions–America’s young people would be on course for more active and informed civic engagement throughout their adulthood as well. That means that pronounced civic deficits in Florida to date–low levels of voter turnout, membership in groups, trust, and volunteering–will begin to improve, and civil society will be stronger.” (Levine & Kawashima-Ginsberg, 2017, p. 14).

More information on Florida’s national reputation, and the lessons it provides the nation, is available at CivXNow (


Present at the 2019 Florida Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference!


Heroes. Villains. Rogues. Legends. Our history is filled with those who made a difference, for good or ill. And the question of how we teach about heroes and villains, good and evil, challenges and victories, is one that has always plagued our field. Teaching in turbulent times means rising to meet the challenges posed by heroes and villains. Come to the 2019 FCSS Conference here in Orlando and explore this theme! And please consider submitting a proposal that aligns with our theme. Villains make a difference. But so do heroes. So can you, in our field!


The Florida Council for the Social Studies is accepting session proposals for the 2019 FCSS Conference at Florida Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando, Florida on October 18 – 20, 2019.

Submit your session proposal prior to June 1, 2019 –

· Presenters will be notified by July 15, 2019

· Presenters of accepted sessions must register by August 15, 2019 to confirm participation in the conference

Information about the FCSS conference can be found at:

Online registration is available at

Plan your stay!

The FCSS Conference hotel rate is $131 per night . The Florida Hotel and Conference Center $18.00 per day for amenities is waived. Reservations must be made prior to September 26, 2019.

We look forward to receiving your proposal,

The 2019 FCSS Conference Committee

Constitutional Democracy in Florida Civics Benchmarks

As we move forward in thinking about how we might re-imagine civic education here in Florida, one of the most common questions we hear is ‘Do kids learn about the Constitution and American principles at all?’ This is certainly an important question, especially as we increasingly see questions about such things as checks and balances and civil rights in the news. Recently, we took a closer look at our state standards and benchmarks to see if we could answer that question affirmatively. So let’s take a short dive into things!

Our first consideration addresses reference to the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and the principles of the Market Economy.
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