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The Common Core or the Common Chore?

By Norrell Edwards, CEI Intern. As the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) comes hurtling to a school system near you, there seem to be increasing concerns towards implementing these new standards. The standards themselves- focused on deeper, more conceptual learning- sound great. However, from state to state, and even school-to-school, preparation varies incredibly. Change is never easy, and without flaws.  Perhaps one of the most tension inducing aspects of this transition is the worry over assessments.  How students perform on regional and state tests will ultimately determine effectiveness of these new standards, as well as the teachers teaching them.

Are your curricula aligned? That’s a lot of pressure for teachers! They’ve got to scrape together materials, which may or may not reflect the new goals of the CCSS and prepare these students for a test they’ve never seen before.  Yet, the lack of specific CCSS aligned teaching materials or professional development for teachers in CCSS approaches is not the only problem. The actual assessments need to be reformatted to the new state standards also. Depending on the district and the state, students might be learning new CCSS material but taking old tests.

Old test or new? Those old tests have completely different objectives than the CCSS in terms of learning.  This scenario and its complications are discussed in Gadflys opinion article in the November 2013 issue ‘Common Core in the Districts, A look at Early Implementers.’

Schools producing poor test scores will almost inevitably incur harsh criticism from parents as well as policy makers and educators. Thus test scores continue to cause a large amount of stress for teachers.  In a survey, mentioned in a Gadfly report and taken by 20,000 teachers, 57% felt that that the common core would have a positive effect on students. Although 7:1 teachers support the Common Core, many are distraught over resources and for good reason. Even their leaders, the principals at the helm of the their academic ship, are worried about maintaining CCSS needs. In a survey taken by 1,000 principals across 14 states that have adopted the CCSS voiced major concerns over preparation. They would require more leadership in:

‘How to manage the change process in the schools, evaluate teachers’ use of the new standards during instruction, align the school’s instructional focus, make key decisions on the best types of professional development to support teachers, and develop extended learning opportunities to sufficiently address CCSS implementation.’

Performance and Consequences for Schools. Ultimately all of these aspects would need real capital to undergird their execution. Implementation does not only need financial support but community understanding as well. One New York school principal, Lucille McAssey, explains that we all must speak the same language when it comes to these new education policies. The New York State Education department had implicitly suggested that assessment would be testing the teachers as well; ‘scores across the state would drop, and they would not necessarily be indicative of deficiencies in student learning. Scores would instead be used to create new benchmarks.’ Naturally, McAssey’s school had frantically prepared to take tests aligned with the CCSS and failed just as dreadfully as the state education department had predicted.  This ‘bad performance’ can deeply affect the psyche of the school.

Perhaps one of the most illuminating aspects of McAssey’s advice and perspective is that we must stop correlating tests with punishment. She provides a key vocabulary in terms of discussing assessments; they can be informative or summative. The former shows where both the teacher and student are in the learning process, whereas the latter provides information on the effectiveness of the system as a whole. Keeping these terms, in mind we have to immediately curb our natural socialized reaction to find an immediate scapegoat for ‘bad’ test scores. It’s a far more complicated web than we often see it to be.

Further, finding a common ground of understanding could help bolster teacher’s feelings of self-efficacy. Of the same survey questioning 20,000 teachers in Common Core states, a meager less than 10 percent felt that their voices were heard on the national and state level. Isn’t that alarming?  Although 98% of these same teachers see their job as more than a profession, they don’t feel as though their opinions make an impact on a larger scale. These are the individuals closest to molding the education of our children. We have to find a way to support them and this new transition instead of constraining and intimidating them.

Editors Note: NAESP’s  national survey  of over 1000 principals, conducted by Dr. Mason, CEI Executive Director, reported similar concerns. Principals support the ‘idea’ behind the Common Core, but need more resources for implementation.


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