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Testing and Common Core

Young girl using a computer

The “moment of truth” is arriving as students across the country are taking standardized state assessments. Teachers and administrators are both asking “what else can we do?” and simultaneously lamenting the amount of time and energy that goes into test prep and testing. One school discusses peppermint candies for energy; another will have plenty of water on hand to keep students hydrated. Schools are sending notes to parents about the importance of meals and sleep during test week, even as the schools also review their school breakfast and lunch menus to get the most out of these nutrition bursts. Some students will be “paid” for good results, at other schools; students will be rewarded for coming to school during test week.

Over the past few months, schools and teachers have strategized about ways to make up for lost time — how to help students “catch up” and improve memory skills. Many classes have increased the use of review games such as “Jeopardy” and others have spent hours going over key vocabulary words — words such as “analyze or compare” to help students understand tasks and also  key vocabulary words that will help students understand reading passages. There are even published lists of recommended vocabulary words available online.

A lot “to do” over’….? Well, not exactly nothing. Because under NCLB students are scoring better. We have seen improvements in academic achievement. However, with the Common Core Standards comes an important opportunity to shift how schools approach instruction and assessment of knowledge. So the next two years will be a critical time to take the focus off of minutiae and put it on understanding key concepts. Higher order thinking skills are more integral to the new Common Core Standards. Interesting….so the “truth” about academic achievement – the state of education – will shift with the new measures.  As we leave this “window of testing” and head into the home stretch for the Spring of 2011, schools have an opportunity to begin looking forward and gearing up for the standards to come. This will require a paradigm shift as educators compare their curricula pacing guides to the new standards. As some leading educators have recommended, this may require “leaving things out of the curricula” rather than “squeezing more in.” This could come as a welcome relief to many. And it could present an opportunity to consider again the role of schools, the needs of students, and how to leave behind some of the excess baggage that has been a part of NCLB.

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