While driving to and from work these past 4 days, I’ve heard several segments about the Common Core. Specifically, on KUT.org and NPR. Two different standardized tests are rolling out for implementation in the 45 Common Core states, so the media is covering the related pros & cons, ins & outs, ups & downs, and political arguments. The first, Q&A: A Crash Course on the Common Core, aired March 18th. The following questions are addressed in this article (which you can also listen to on All Things Considered).
- What are the Common Core State Standards?
- Opponents of the Common Core argue that the standards tell teachers what texts they should teach. Do they?
- Will the Core come with new standardized tests?
- How do teachers unions feel about the Common Core?
If you’re new to the Common Core, this might be a must-read for you. I plan to revisit it.
In the second interesting article (also available with audio on All Things Considered), As Common Core Tests Approach, So Does a Sea Change in Schools, Claudio Sanchez interviews representatives from the 2 new Common Core-aligned standardized tests. The largest of the two groups, Smarter Balanced, is a consortium of 23 states that have already adopted the Common Core. The second group is PARCC; that’s short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Its consortium represents another 17 states and the District of Columbia. As Sanchez explains, “Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced will field test their exams on computer and in paper form. They’ll be about three to four hours long. Once these new tests are revised and ready to go this fall, states will for the first time be able to compare results across state lines.” This should be interesting. We currently rely on nationally normed tests like the SAT-10 to compare student performance across the states.
The third recent article, Common Core Creates Opportunities for Publishers, points out that “Some 45 states and the District of Columbia have now signed onto the new Common Core education standards. And that will draw in not just companies that make textbooks and teaching materials, but also publishers of children’s books – novels, nonfiction, the kind of books people read for pleasure.” As Lynn Neary states, “…if there is one thing that everyone might agree on, it’s that the common goal of the Common Core should be simple: to get kids reading more, and better, books. To do that, you have to get them excited about reading.” The Common Core promotes integrated, relevant, quality books and provides book recommendations in Appendix B. No one can argue that getting kids excited about reading books is an important part of the equation and has been a huge goal in my classroom for as long as I’ve taught.
So…when you consider the amount of attention the media is paying to the Common Core and the tests that have been developed to assess students’ progress, it is obvious that it’s a big deal. In 45 states. What about the other 5, including Texas? Well, we have out own big deals and they’re spelled TEKS and STAAR. We also have publishers, educational agencies, and school districts that have invested the majority of their resources in instructional and preparation materials. All of this begs the question, what about the kids?
As I sit here and steal a few minutes to research and blog, my 5th graders are completing 1 of 2 STAAR passages I’ve given them this week (passages, not 5-passage tests). The first was a paired passage on Monday that they completed together with a friend where they were able to share the reading, discuss, debate, find and cite evidence collaboratively.
Is today’s independent reading passage the best teaching I’ve done all week? Not by a long shot.
Is it fun and motivating? Not exactly, but the kids have a positive attitude nonetheless.
Is test-taking a necessary skill in this 21st century? Yes.
Is is test-taking one of the incredibly important 21st Century Skills we have talked about so much lately: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Cooperation, or Caring? No.
Is it what’s best for kids or what’s best for the adults who like to rank and evaluate schools? You tell me.
Should students be required to pass a standardized test in order to pass on to the next grade? According to the Texas state legislature, yes. What do the Common Core states say?
As I see it, tests should be tools just like books from every genre, primary sources, poetry writing, and debates. They should be a way to inspire and evaluate progress, and motivate students, teachers, and schools to challenge themselves to grow and develop.
So…it’s time to go over the passage with my students. They are troopers and hard workers who know that tests are here and must be prepared for and endured. They’re not fun, but they are important to their short and longterm well-being. For Now. As long as I’ve been teaching (24 years), standardized tests have been around and have grown in their power and influence here in Texas. It will be interesting to see how the Common Core states use their new standardized tests and how states, school districts, teachers, students, and families use all of this new information.