The rubric puts greatest focus on specific content students should know. We divided this content into six categories: events, leaders, groups, causes (history), obstacles and tactics. Content contributed to 85% of a state’s overall score.

The remaining 15% was allotted to how the state contextualized the movement. Here, we looked at whether instruction spanned several grade levels, whether teachers were required to connect the movement to other social movements and to current events, and whether it was included in civics standards.

States with superb required content could stumble on context if they tended to treat the movement as an isolated historical era. States requiring no content were rarely able to score well on context.

Of necessity, the rubric is incomplete. In particular, it reflects a regional version of the civil rights movement which, while consistent with textbook and state versions of events, is increasingly at odds with more nuanced portrayals of the movement in modern historical scholarship. There is no dispute among historians that key activists and events happened outside the South. The rubric attempts to capture some of this by allowing states the freedom to name their own influential leaders, but the events category remains a hybrid of national and Southern tipping points.

Using the rubric, state standards and frameworks were read and assigned a value of 1 for each specific component included. For example, in the category dealing with movement leaders, states were given a 1 if they required that students learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and another 1 if they required students to learn about Rosa Parks.21 Thus a full list of movement leaders required by the states, collectively, was developed. States were coded a 0 or 1 for each leader depending on whether they required study of that leader. For this leaders category, states were assigned a score based on the percentage of eight leaders they required students to study. If they required six of the recommended eight, the raw score for leaders was 75%. Other categories (events, groups, tactics, history) were scored similarly, according to the items and accompanying weights in the rubric.

The rubric expresses the hope that students should learn more than lists of facts. For example, it says that students should not only be able to identify major civil rights movement groups, but that they should also be able to “explain the mission and accomplishments of each group as well as trace the relationship between groups.” These more nuanced expectations were not coded or included in grading for the purpose of this study; the disparate nature of state content requirements (some only a sentence, others spanning several paragraphs) required some compromises for the sake of commensurability. Full coding for each state is found in the Appendix.


21 Standards, we found, often contained detailed information that was merely suggested or offered as illustration. Looking specifically for required content, we coded only content we confirmed was considered required.