Michigan Students Participate in National Program Shown to Boost School Performance and Job Skills

January 31, 2011

Lansing Students who participate in the National History Day (NHD) educational program, coordinated as Michigan History Day by the Historical Society of Michigan, perform better on high-stakes tests, are better writers, more confident and capable researchers, and have a more mature perspective on current events and civic engagement than their peers, according to the first national evaluation of the widely used curricular program. Participants also show a greater ability to collaborate with peers, manage their time, and persevere – all skills employers say are lacking in today’s workforce.

For more than 20 years, the Historical Society of Michigan has run Michigan History Day, coordinating the regional and state-level competitions and providing support for teachers and students throughout the school year. This year, more than 5,000 students from around the state are taking part in Michigan History Day.

Major sponsors of Michigan History Day include Meijer Inc., The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, The Cook Charitable Foundation, and Amway Inc. One by One Campaign for Children.

“Over the past two decades, our staff has witnessed the profound impact that History Day has on students across Michigan,” commented Executive Director Larry J. Wagenaar.  “This program is one of the best tools educators have to encourage additional growth in critical thinking, research, literacy, communication, and other skills with their students.”

Michigan History Day is a year-long academic program for elementary and secondary school students focused on historical research, interpretation, and creative expression.  Students who participate in this academic competition become writers, filmmakers, web designers, playwrights, and artists as they create unique contemporary expressions of history.

Michigan’s state coordinator for History Day, Emily Asbenson, noted that “It’s encouraging to see the study confirm what we’ve known for years: that students who participate in Michigan History Day develop the confidence, curiosity, and self-direction to be successful in both their education and the workplace.”

The full report, National History Day Works, is available a twww.nhd.org/NHDWorks.  Some of the important findings include:

  • NHD students outperform their non-NHD peers on state standardized tests, not only in social studies, but in reading, science, and math as well. For example,
  • In 2008-2009 in Texas, twice as many NHD students achieved “commended performance” as non-NHD students (87 percent vs. 37 percent) on the social studies assessment of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).
  • At a South Carolina middle school where NHD was part of the curriculum for all eighth graders, students scored higher than students in a non-NHD middle school on the Language Arts, Math, and Science segments of the 2008-09 South Carolina Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) test.
  • NHD students are better writers, who write with a purpose and real voice, and marshal solid evidence to support their point of view.  NHD students outscored comparison-group students on both pre- and post-writing assessments, receiving more high scores (five or six) on a six point scale. NHD essays had more sentence variety, richer vocabulary, a more authentic voice, and better organization.
  • NHD students are critical thinkers who can digest, analyze, and synthesize information. Performance assessments show that NHD students overall were significantly better than their peers at interpreting historical information, with an average of 79 percent vs. 61 percent correct.
  • NHD students learn 21st century skills. They learn how to collaborate with team members, talk to experts, manage their time, and persevere.
  • NHD has a positive impact among students whose interests in academic subjects may wane in high school. Analyses show that among black and Hispanic students, NHD students outperform non-NHD students, posting higher performance assessment scores and levels of interests and skills. Compared to non-NHD boys, and to all girls, boys participating in NHD reported significantly higher levels of interest in history, civic engagement, and confidence in research skills, on both pre- and post-surveys.

Conducted by San Francisco-based research firm Rockman, et al, the study looked at performance assessments, surveys, and standardized test scores to evaluate students’ research and writing skills, ability to interpret historical information, academic performance, and interest in past and current events. Researchers then compared their evaluations of students who participated in National History Day (NHD) to their peers who did not participate in the program.

The study, conducted at four sites around the country, found that on nearly every measure, NHD students’ scores or ratings were higher than their peers who did not participate in the program. The sites evaluated included school districts in urban, suburban and rural settings: Aldine Unified School District, Houston, TX; Chesterfield Co. Schools, Chesterfield, SC; a large public school district in Colorado; and Paterson Public Schools, Paterson, NJ. The survey included a slightly higher sample of Black and Hispanic students compared to the population breakdown in U.S. public schools.

About Michigan History Day

Michigan History Day (National History Day in Michigan) engages students from 4th-12th grade in a statewide academic competition which develops a wide variety of skills.  Students choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews, and historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances, and documentaries. These products are entered into competitions in the spring at local, state, and national levels, where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators. The program culminates in a national competition each June held at the University of Maryland at College Park.  For more information on Michigan History Day, visit www.hsmichigan.org or call (800) 692-1828.

About National History Day

National History Day (NHD) is a year-long academic organization for elementary and secondary school students. Each year, more than half a million students, encouraged by thousands of teachers nationwide participate in the NHD contest. Visit www.nhd.org.


Historical Society of Michigan 7435 Westshire Dr., Lansing MI 48917
Email hsm@hsmichigan.org | Phone (517) 324-1828 | Fax (517) 324-4370

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