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'National History Day' Lifts Achievement, Study Finds

The first-ever national evaluation of National History Day suggests that students who participate in the yearlong academic program and competition perform better on standardized tests, are better writers, and are more confident and capable researchers.

The program for elementary and secondary students focuses on historical research, interpretation, and creative expression.

"This research confirms what those of us who work with National History Day students have seen anecdotally for years," Cathy Gorn, the program's executive director, said in a press release. "Students who are slipping through the cracks of our education system find their way back and get on track to succeed in school while participating in NHD."

The independent evaluation, conducted by the San Francisco-based research firm Rockman et al, sought to compare groups of student participants in National History Day programs to similar sets of students who did not participate. In all, the study examined outcomes for 458 students in four districts, located in Colorado, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Texas; 274 of those students participated in National History Day programs.

With regard to test scores, the report found that participating students outperformed non-participating peers on state standardized tests, not only in social studies, but also in other subjects, including reading, mathematics, and science.

The report notes that each year, more than 600,000 middle and high school students participate in National History Day by creating presentations "that bring primary-source research to life through table-top exhibits, documentaries, live performances, websites, and research papers."

Teachers incorporate the NHD curriculum into their classrooms or offer the program as an extracurricular activity. Students work together with their teachers, as well as with local historical societies and museums, on yearlong history projects that culminate in local and state contests, and finally a national competition held each June, the report explains.

The evaluation was funded by philanthropist Kenneth E. Behring and the U.S. Department of Education.

The report argues that, given the large number of U.S. students who perform poorly in history, "the need to demonstrate the evidence-based, wide-ranging effectiveness of innovative, successful modes of teaching history is at a pivotal point."

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