Key Peninsula Middle School, Lakbay, Wash.
Why did the states create the Common Core State Standards?
We are preparing our students to compete in a world that is different than ours, and education needs to be responsive to this. The bottom line is that my middle school science students need to be ready for college, career and life. Right now, 80% of entering college freshmen are not prepared academically for first-year courses, according to ACT, and the United States spends an estimated $3 billion a year on college remediation, according to Complete College America.
Does this mean that as a teacher, I wasn’t doing a good job or didn’t have high goals before?
Unequivocally, the answer is no. Teachers have been doing and continue to do a great job. I see Common Core as an exciting shift that will finally put standards into place that aren’t full of education-ese; standards that will allow me to be innovative in helping my students to reach these goals. Clear goals, rather than long and vague goals about what students need to know and be able to do are long overdue. And what I especially like: CCSS get teachers out of the test-prep business in their classrooms and frees up teachers to provide opportunities for richer learning and mastery of increasingly difficult problems and texts. So, I can concentrate on the work of preparing my students for college, career, and life. Will it be hard work? Yes. Teachers are ready to take on this hard work. Major shifts in instruction are already happening in thousands of classrooms.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) focus on deeper understanding and application of skills. CCSS sets high learning goals that go beyond a surface list of topics. In addition to higher standards and clear learning outcomes, these outcomes are expected of all students and are the same across states that have adopted CCSS -- something that's very important as our world becomes an even smaller place. For example, in the past, children of our military members lost traction and credits when their parents were transferred. With CCSS, all children will be expected to meet the same fifth grade math standards in Washington State as in Florida. This is also true from school to school. So, when a student is transferred into my class from a school on the other side of the district or from a school across the country, my student and I can both expect to focus on instruction and learning -- and not on an entirely different set of standards.
Aren’t the Common Core State Standards a federal program?
The federal government had no involvement in the development of the standards. In fact, the development of CCSS was led by state leaders, which included the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers -- and included all but two states. More importantly, teachers and a broad range of stakeholders were instrumental in the process. Teachers often feel as if education shifts or changes are done to them without input from teachers. This time, teachers and other stakeholders were a part of the development at every step of the way. In fact, when public comments were taken, over 10,000 comments were received and used to help shape the final document. Teachers are also part of teams that helped inform the drafts, gave comment on the drafts, are giving input into assessment items, and are part of field testing teams across the country.
Who is writing the Common Core-aligned tests?
The good news is that the states that have adopted the Common Core standards are already putting higher standards into place, and teachers are already writing assessments to inform instruction in their classrooms. And, just like student assessments in our classrooms that are aligned with our curriculum, the state assessments also need to be aligned with the higher standards. The tests are being developed by two multi-state consortia (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) that include teachers as partners -- thousands of educators have been involved in developing the new test items. Washington state will use the Smarter Balanced assessment system. These assessments are being field tested this spring across the country, will be rolled out during the 2014-2015 school year and are being designed to provide more meaningful and timely information to teachers, parents, and students.
Does the Common Core deprive teachers of autonomy?
As a National Board Certified Teacher, I know there are many ways that accomplished teachers practice their craft -- many styles that all focus on what is best for kids. So, my radar is on high alert if it seems that the art of teaching is compromised. And the short answer is no. CCSS is about “what” not “how.” CCSS defines what students need to know and be able to do at each grade level. How to reach those standards, including the development and implementation of curriculum to meet the standards is up to teachers, schools, and school districts.
Dr. Kareen Borders is a 7th-8th grade science teacher and NASA Explorer School Team Lead at Key Peninsula Middle School in Lakbay, Wash., near Gig Harbor. She recently finished a one-year term as a Regional Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education.