I like the Common Core. There I said it. And I didn’t only say it, but I put that utterance in writing for the world to see. With memes all over the internet like the one below, nobody should be surprised that feelings about the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) cause such polar opinions in our country. In true style of a people pleaser, I’m uncomfortable committing to an opinion that is so angering to some people. While there are understandable points to arguments on both sides, I believe that CCSS sometimes gets a bad rap because everything about the topic is confusing. I’m willing to publicly advocate for CCSS because I know this work is beneficial to students.
To help the families we serve at my school understand what the instruction their students are receiving is based on, I’ve been offering an annual CCSS Family Information Night. The message has been well received. And you, too, can attend my information session. Virtually. Here we go.
1) CCSS stands for Common Core State Standards. They are simply a set of standards, adopted by the majority of the U.S. that, if met, are assumed to prepare a student for college or a career after high school. We have these standards in math and ELA. ELA, standing for English Language Arts, encompasses reading, writing, listening, speaking, and research. Essentially literacy skills fall into this category. The CCSS are perfectly reasonable things children should learn (think decoding skills, addition, and inferring from text).
What about other subjects such as social students, technology, and science? These subjects are given sets of standards as well. However, the standards fall to either NGSS for science or the state level for other areas.
Now, are standards a bad thing? No! In fact I would argue they are a good thing. I have standards for the way children behave in my classroom. I have standards for the skill set my hair stylist has. I have standards for the restaurants I choose to eat at. I have standards for the level of work I expect a handyman, my grocery clerk, or our tax accountant to do. So do you. Standards just allow all educators to have a guideline of where to go. Our children deserve to have teachers with standards for instruction! This video shows how this works nicely:
2) Teachers, schools and districts pick curriculums and teaching strategies to help kids learn what CCSS says students need to learn. There’s no one size fits all scenario. What’s happening in one classroom may differ from the next, but teachers are utilizing the skill sets and materials they have to help the students they teach reach these standards. Because of the increased rigor and the emphasis on problem solving, the way we think about the academic work may differ from what we as adults remember. These strategies are not wrong, they are just different ways of thinking.
3) States that have adopted the CCSS look for a way to assess their students’ progress. There are two leading assessments, authored by different groups of people, that states commit to using. Washington state is a governing member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC for short). Other states are committed to using PARCC as their assessment. Students are given assessments over ELA and math CCSS material once each year starting in 3rd grades. We refer to these tests as the SBA or Smarter Balanced Assessment. The scores are reported to students, families, teachers/schools, and the school district. Scores of school buildings are made public as a whole, but not at the individual student level.
So many concerns about the CCSS are really about the assessment(s) we give students, the focus we put on the assessment, and what we do with the results. In my classroom, the test results are simply that – ONE data point used to look at student growth and areas of need. They’re also used as evidence of my own strengths and weaknesses as an instructor.
There’s a very valid concern that schools are preparing students around the clock for this one specific assessment. This is a classroom or school based scenario that I can’t speak to, as I live in the walls of my schoolhouse. However, I wholeheartedly agree that this is where things go awry.
I’d like to address how we use the results of the SBA, especially as the ‘season’ for proctoring this test is rapidly approaching. That, however, is content enough for a whole blog post of its own. Come back next month and see how I, and the incredible educators I work with, use the results to increase student learning.
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.