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Supporting Students in Developing Persuasive Policy Arguments

March 21, 2018 / by Ben Kirshner & Ginnie Logan

Mr. G. was a literacy teacher at a Colorado high school where more than 80 percent of the students identified as Latino/a or Mexican American, and many were undocumented. One of his assignments, to draft a college application essay, sparked a larger discussion among students about their hopes for the future, but also their concerns about barriers to higher education facing them and their peers.

Many of Mr. G.’s students, for example, were acutely aware of the difficulty associated with attending college as an undocumented person. Furthermore, they believed that paying exorbitant out-of-state college tuition at Colorado universities -- even though they had grown up in Colorado -- was unfair to undocumented students.

They expressed frustration that their high school, with its strong college preparation focus, didn't acknowledge these challenges or offer guidance and advice on how to address them.

Mr. G. decided to use his literacy class as a context for students to explore issues of immigration and to take action based on their research. Using a curricular model called Critical Civic Inquiry (see Figure 1), the students:

  • Collected data by interviewing their peers and reviewing archival information.
  • Researched legislators’ biographies and wrote persuasive letters to legislators that reflected their values and ideas for policy.
  • Organized a dialogue with adult school personnel about the importance of explaining options for undocumented students, particularly given the school’s prominent college-going message.

critical civic inquiry cycle

Figure 1. Critical Civic Inquiry Learning Cycle

The Measure of Youth Policy Arguments (MYPA)

The work that Mr. G.’s students did was impressive -- they completed research, they shared their views with elected officials, they learned how to express their voices, and they exercised agency about an issue they cared about deeply. It didn't, however, fit into the typical types of curriculum and assessment that are common in public schools.

We saw a need for new tools that could support student learning and assessment when engaging in civic inquiry projects and taking action in the public sphere. Teachers, too, expressed a desire for resources that could guide their instruction and help them assess student learning. In response, our research team developed a set of resources for teachers that include an assessment rubric and curriculum materials.

MYPA is a rubric designed to provide formative and summative support to educators engaging youth in action civics or participatory action research. It supports youth in working with peers to address public issues that are relevant to their lives, while students gain practice navigating complex systems and developing evidence-based arguments to influence policy. Specifically, the MYPA rubric focuses on six core competencies:

  • Problem Identification: Does the presentation situate the problem in a broader understanding of social or institutional or political systems? Do presenters share evidence about the nature or extent of the problem?
  • Research Methods: Do presenters explain how they approached their research and provide details about their results?
  • Policy Proposal: Does the presentation offer a clear call to action for a sustainable policy? Does the proposal relate to the explanation of the problem?
  • Collaboration: Is it evident that the group worked together and different people play important roles?
  • Presentation and Delivery: Do the parts relate to each other? Are presentations clearly articulated with strong body language and other qualities of public speaking?
  • Response to Questions: Do presenters show they can respond to questions and depart from pre-written scripts?

Using MYPA in Your Classroom

MYPA not only outlines the core ingredients necessary for creating policy recommendations, but also provides educators with detailed examples of each category executed at low, middle, and high levels. Educators can use MYPA as a formative tool to support the civic learning process and can also use MYPA to assess the quality of policy arguments in culminating demonstrations of learning.

  • See an example of our partnership with the Student Voice and Leadership program in Denver Public Schools, Challenge 5280, which uses MYPA as a resource for student learning and action projects.
  • Get your pdf copy of the MYPA rubric here.
  • If you'd like to use the MYPA scorecard for summative evaluative uses, please email Ben Kirshner at ben.kirshner@colorado.edu, as additional training is needed for appropriate use. MYPA is an open source tool copyrighted under the creative commons license.

This post is part of a series of blog posts on civic assessment. To read more posts about tools to assess civic learning, click here. You can also find more ideas and resources related to civic learning in the Educating for Democracy Deep Dive.

Topics: Social Justice, Social Studies, Educating for Democracy, Civic Engagement

Ben Kirshner & Ginnie Logan

Written by Ben Kirshner & Ginnie Logan

Ben Kirshner is a Professor of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder and Faculty Director of CU Engage: Center for Community-Based Learning and Research. His experiences working with young people at a community center in San Francisco’s Mission District motivated him to study educational equity and design social justice learning environments. In his work with the MYPA team, Ben partners with secondary school teachers and administrators to design, study, and sustain structured opportunities for student voice in decision making. Ben’s 2015 book, Youth Activism in an Era of Education Inequality, received the social policy award for the best-authored book from the Society of Research on Adolescence. Ginnie Logan is a student in Learning Sciences and Human Development at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research interests center on issues of youth civic identity development as it relates to race, gender, and national identity. Specifically, Ginnie utilizes critical theoretical and methodological lenses to explore how national context and minoritized identities inform conceptions of civic engagement, identity, and activism for Black girls in the U.S., Cuba, and South Africa. Through her scholarship, Ginnie is committed to developing models of praxis that result in emancipatory outcomes for Black girls and other minoritized youth. Before returning to graduate school, Ginnie was the director of an educational nonprofit, an assistant principal, a teacher trainer, and high school teacher.

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