NC’s Revised Social Studies Standards and Pathways to Grade-Level Reading

If you’ve been following NC education news for the past two weeks, you’ll know that the State Board of Education has been considering revisions to the K-12 Social Studies Standards for NC public schools. On February 4th, they voted and approved Draft 5 of the Social Studies Standards, representing an important next step towards a more inclusive and culturally-relevant curriculum for NC students. 

The most notable revisions to the NC Social Studies Standards include the addition of the terms racism, identity, and discrimination. These additions aim to better capture the challenging realities of our country and state, past and present, along with our achievements. The terms systemic racism, gender identity, or systemic discrimination were proposed in an earlier version, but were not approved for the final draft. See an example of a history standard and one of its revised objectives below:

  • Standard CL.H.1. Understand how individual rights and the American system of government have evolved over time.
    • Objective CL.H.1.6. Exemplify ways individuals have demonstrated resistance and resilience to inequities, injustice, and discrimination within the American system of government over time.

The proposed revisions included input from hundreds of educators across the state. Some educators and Board members felt the more specific terms—systemic racism, gender identity, and systemic discrimination—are necessary. Others felt the final revisions are more inclusive of different types of racism, identities, and discrimination. To learn more, read Education NC’s coverage of the Board of Education meetings here and here.

According to the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS), social studies (e.g., history, geography, civic engagement) at the elementary level should provide students with “purposeful and meaningful learning experiences that are challenging, of high quality, developmentally appropriate, and reflective of contemporary social and diverse global realities.”1 This includes critical thinking and dialogue around NC’s complex history and progress. NCSS states that differentiated instruction and culturally relevant pedagogy are necessary to meet individual student needs. Research-based standards that promote these areas benefit all NC students.

While there is still work to do, NC’s revised Social Studies Standards move forward one of the prioritized Actions of the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative. These Actions represent the areas that hundreds of North Carolinians said NC should work on first to move the needle on grade-level reading. Pathways prioritized four Actions, listed below, that promote cultural relevancy and competency in standards, teaching, curricula and materials, and accountability systems:

  • Adopt Research-Based Standards for Culturally-Relevant Teaching. Adopt research-based standards that connect to diverse cultures (are culturally relevant) to help birth-through-age-eight educators know what skills they need to effectively teach students of color, honor the customs, norms and traditions of all students, and include the diverse views and histories of communities of color within the curriculum.
  • Provide Professional Development for Teachers on Cultural Competency and Working with Families.Embed professional development opportunities that support a deeper understanding of race, culture and unconscious prejudices (implicit bias). Explicitly teach teachers and those seeking early education, B-K, and K-3 licenses how to develop and strengthen relationships with families of color, families with home languages other than English, and the community. Use Head Start standards and competencies as a model.
  • Ensure Curricula and Materials are Culturally Relevant. Support local school districts and child care centers to implement strategies that detect racial and cultural bias in curricula and materials, and to select high-quality, diverse, culturally-relevant instructional materials and ways of teaching (pedagogy) that are aligned to state standards.
  • Ensure Education Accountability Systems are Culturally Relevant. Ensure that the way effectiveness is measured in schools and early learning programs is relevant and meaningful to families, students, and other stakeholders. Engage people from low-income communities and communities of color in the design, reporting, and fine-tuning of accountability measures.

The revised NC Social Standards realize the first Action—adopt research-based standards for culturally-relevant teaching—for K-3rd graders, and will hopefully support continued movement in teaching, curricula, and accountability systems.

The Public School Forum of NC and other groups across NC are already leading innovation in these areas. The Forum recognizes that developing culturally responsive standards and curricula are important steps in creating an inclusive classroom, but educators must also understand how to implement and engage students in the curriculum. As a part of their Dudley Flood Center Student Voices Series, we’ll hear directly from NC students and school leaders on this topic in a webinar called Critical Conversations and Deeper Learning: Pedagogy with an Equity Lens on February 25th from 3-5pm. Register here. Access a recording of their first Student Voices Webinar: What Does Culturally Responsive Curriculum Mean to Our Students? here.


1. Fitchett, P.G., T.L. Heafner, and R. Lambert. “Examining Social Studies Marginalization: A Multilevel Analysis.” Educational Policy 28, no. 1 (2014): 40-68.