Assessment History Uncovering History

Investigating the Montgomery Bus Boycott

In May shortly after returning to the classroom from covering a maternity leave elsewhere in the building. I facilitated student inquiry into the Montgomery Bus Boycott using SHEG’s activity  I had been out when the trimester began and had not taught US History earlier this year.  So, the students were all new to me, and it was a little strange for all of us to have a first-day experience with three weeks left in the school year. To assess student work on the activity I read student paragraphs addressing “Why was the Montgomery Bus Boycott successful?” in class while students were completing them and return them with comments only as quickly as I could.  My comments indicated student proficiency based on the writing with evidence rubric the Global Studies PLC and my PLN had been refining through the year.  Once students were proficient in using evidence and sourcing analysis I wrote a large “P” atop their papers and kept them to record in the grade book.  Ultimately, about a quarter of students attained this after a revision or two and over half the class was partially proficient.

Black and white photo of African Americans walking in a large group during the bus boycott.
Image from SHEG: Photo of Black residents walking during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. From

My first observation was that students were drawn to the textbook source, particularly its claim that the Boycott was successful because of the large number of participants.  When prompted to analyze it as a source students praised the textbook source as reliable because it had multiple authors and/or was intended for school. Students may also have used the textbook because it directly answered the question. Obviously, I hope, textbook praise was not my intention, and I intend to more directly guide students to dig out the nuances of the other sources next time.
Besides functioning as a formative assessment of students’ historical thinking, the activity allowed me to evaluate the rubric after twelve weeks out of the classroom.  I quickly realized that I need to add corroboration to the rubric, perhaps in place of the bland reasoning line.  English teachers in my building have made real progress in writing instruction over the past several years, and by May most sophomores seem to understand how to use evidence to support a proposition.  They can connect two pieces of evidence to a claim, but most did not relate the pieces of evidence to each other.  Despite the title of the rubric, however, I want students to think historically, not just use evidence.  This means explicitly comparing the sources as a historian would.  The real next step is a new rubric to assess historical thinking.  Fortunately, a smart guy wrote a book on this recently.

Image: Photo of Black residents walking during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. From

By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

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