Common Core State Standards may surprise some
As with many things in education, there is controversy brewing on a national and state level about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The standards were initiated by state governors and education commissioners with the input of teachers, parents, administrators, and content experts from across the country. The controversy seems to be two-fold. There are some who fear the federal government’s involvement in education, because in many ways these standards have become a de facto set of national standards, as 45 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted them. There are also groups who feel the standards are too rigorous for most students.
The Common Core website, corestandards.org, summarizes the effort this way, “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. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”
Maine adopted the CCSS and they now help guide the teaching and learning in math and English language arts across the state. Beginning next year, our state assessments will be aligned to these standards as well. Students in grades 3 through 8 will no longer take the New England Common Assessment Program, better known as NECAP tests, and students in grade 11 will no longer be required to take the SAT (as a state-wide assessment). Both of those tests will be replaced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment, a computer-based measure of performance aligned to the CCSS, which will be administered by schools across Maine toward the end of the 2014-15 school year.
The three public schools in Camden and Rockport have been preparing for the shift to Common Core for the past couple of years. Teachers have aligned their learning outcomes and curriculums to better match the more rigorous standards. For instance, the elementary and middle schools recently updated and expanded the Every Day Math program in grades K through 6 so the curriculum is aligned to Common Core.
At the ground level, that means students in sixth-grade will solve traditional Algebraic equations with one unknown, a skill previously reserved for Algebra One class. This change actually reflects the heightened rigor of the CCSS fairly well. In both math and English language arts, much of what is expected in middle school was once expected in high school. Although this is certainly a change for American schools, one look at the Singapore Math Program helps us understand students in other countries have been learning at higher levels for quite some time.
There is no question that implementation of Common Core is going to be challenging. The standards are rigorous and it will take time for teachers and students to adjust accordingly. There will likely be some growing pains, but thus far things have gone fairly well. Most students are rising to the challenge and each school has structures in place to support students who need more time or intensive instruction.
For more information about the standards, or to view the standards themselves at each grade level, please visit the website, corestandards.org, you may be surprised by what you see!
The focus on Common Core standards is linked to work all the schools are doing as we move toward a standards-based model of education where curriculum, instruction, and assessment are inextricably linked and will offer more flexibility to students and a better guarantee for a high quality education. In the meantime, you may see some press about a law that requires high school students to earn a “Proficiency Based Diploma” in order to graduate. That law will affect students graduating in 2018 — the current eighth-grade class. These will be topics of my next installment!
Maria Libby is assistant superintendent for Five Town Consolidated School District and Maine School Administrative District 28.