If you have been in education in the last 5 years the term Common Core State Standards will ring a bell with you. It also might create some anxiety: an eye twitch, sweaty palms, or dry mouth. The media and the nation at large are beginning to learn more about the Common Core. Up until now, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) remain largely unknown to families, the greater community, and the ‘real world’.
In a recent NPR story, Claudio Sanchez explores some of the issues, both positive and negative, regarding the Common Core State Standards. A few points triggered more thought for me.
Sanchez reports, “Testing experts say if you’re going to test students based on the new standards, you first have to give states time to develop new curricula so that kids have a chance to learn the new, more rigorous content.”
I completely agree. Not only do states/districts/teachers need time to develop materials that meet the CCSS and we need to do it without each of us re-creating the wheel. Major shifts are required, particularly in English Language Arts. These shifts in theory, instruction, material development, and pedagogy cannot change overnight.
The story brings up the problem of assessment. In practice we enter a grey area. I am an instructional coach at an elementary school. For our K-2 classes we can ‘fully adopt’ the CCSS. All our materials can be aligned (if we knew how to do it!) and any test offered to those students could be a CCSS-like test.
The waters become muddier in the intermediate grades. We know adopting CCSS practices and standards are essential, but those teachers still have to meet the Washington State standards because that is what the high stakes assessment system is currently based on. So teachers feel a tension between ‘adopting’ the new standards, teaching to the old standards, and feeling accountable for both.
Here’s an example that may sound familiar to you. A teacher at my building was banging her head against the wall because her 3rd grade students could not summarize. She tried every instructional strategy, graphic organizer, and kinesthetic device, to no avail. As I caught her ripping her hair out in the staff room, I asked what the problem was. “They cannot summarize!!!” she lamented. I said, “Not to worry. Summarizing is not mentioned in the 3rd grade CCSS.” She didn’t believe me. We looked it up. True enough. Now, theme is important, but not specifically summarizing for 3rd grade.
She faced a dilemma: teach the Washington State 3rd grade standard to prepare students for the MSP or move on to theme.
Mr. Sanchez’s story does not define this high-stakes-assessment-grey-area in enough detail.
We cannot, each individual teacher, sludge through curriculum development ourselves. Time is called for in this time of major change to make the change in a thoughtful way.