Something big is cooking in the world of education called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
According to the mission statement on the CCSS website (www.corestandards.org), “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” These standards are designed to give students the skills they will need to succeed in college and their careers.
Let’s back up for a moment and look at where this all fits in with teaching practices and standardized testing.
Way back in 2001, “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) took effect. NCLB had good intentions; to increase accountability of schools to meet state standards by tracking student improvement on the tests. After a decade of NCLB, it is common knowledge that this was a case of good intentions gone horribly wrong.
The law mandated annual standardized testing, and for schools to show Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in order to be eligible for state funding. In addition to losing state funding, failure to make AYP results in a whole host of steps schools must then take to improve test scores, including giving students the option of transferring to a passing school, offering free tutoring, hiring private companies to run the school, or closing the school, depending upon how many years the school fails to meet AYP.
The goal of AYP is for schools to meet the goal of 100% proficiency by 2013-2014. By 2010, 38% of schools were still failing and, in 2011, several states had failure rates over 50%. (www.edweek.org/ew/issues/no-child-left-behind/)
NCLB has resulted in a culture of “teaching to the test” in order to raise test scores. Having been a classroom teacher when NCLB hit the fan, I can tell you this is not a little scheme cooked up by teachers in order to look better. In fact, it goes way beyond the classroom. I was lucky because my principal operated under the belief that, if her teachers were doing their jobs (which she trusted we were), then the students would be well prepared.
Unfortunately, this was an unusual approach. The majority of schools spend the bulk of their school year preparing students to take the tests. Anyone who has kids from about 3rd grade on knows this, and is none-too-thrilled about the effect it has on their kids. NCLB has dramatically raised anxiety levels in children, and turned the sea of learning a mile wide and an inch deep, as was stated in the film Race to Nowhere (www.racetonowhere.com). It’s all drill, drill, drill and very little else.
Although NCLB is a federal program, it is up to each state to develop academic achievement standards. Actually, states are responsible for developing AYP expectations, and state assessment as well, which has become a major issue. Many feel that certain states set low standards in order to make it easier for students to meet goals. Also, it’s a “one-size-fits-all” plan with no room for districts to create improvement plans based on the unique needs of their community.
So what has all this got to do with the Common Core State Standards that has caused such a splash in education? I’ll let you know next week.