Rolling off school administrator’s tongues all over the country is the coined term “common core standards.”
If all the work put into these efforts hold schools accountable, however, these standards will not prove to be just administrator rhetoric. Well on its way this year, some questions still need to be answered.
Work towards United States national school standards are in response to 2006 statistics that rank U.S. 15-year-olds 25th in math and 21st in science achievement globally. Also in 2006, the U.S. has the second highest dropout rate of 27 countries, while the share of blue collar jobs drop and specialized jobs needing education increase.
“Four decades ago America had the best high school graduation rate in the world, but by 2006 it had slipped to 18th out of 24 industrialized countries. … And because of their sheer size, China and India will surpass both Europe and the United States in the number of secondary and postsecondary graduates produced over the next decade. Many experts have concluded that since the U.S. can no longer compete in quantity of human capital, it will have to compete in quality by providing its young people with the highest level of reading, science, reading and problem-solving skills in the world.”
Established by the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices, and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), common core standards are designed to establish a set standard for schools across the country in language arts and mathematics for students grades K through 12.
According to the website established by the governor’s association, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity have now adopted these standards.
The significance in these is also stated on the website:
“Unlike previous state standards, which were unique to every state in the country, the Common Core State Standards enable collaboration between states on a range of tools and policies.”
By adopting a certain set of standards, children in these states will be able to move among them without major disruption in their education. Right now many times within their own state students will experience educational differences. According to http://www.corestandards.org/, annual assessments are in development to also replace other state educational tests. In Connecticut all standards are eligible for a large scale assessment that will be administered in 2014-2015. Current collaboration in all states involved are working on tests for this next school year.
Local communities will still design their own curriculum. However, the districts involved will all aim for the same goals. The Capitol Regional Education Council (CREC) has some descriptions of what the aims are for English and Math. CREC is comprised of 35 school districts in the Hartford region, and runs 19 magnet schools of different grades within that region. Glastonbury Public Schools website describes the aim best, “While the standards establish what students need to learn, they are not a curriculum. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and other education leaders decide how the standards are to be met in each state and in each community. Since 2010 (when Connecticut adopted the standards), Glastonbury Public Schools has been working to review our curriculum and adjust grade-level expectations as necessary. In general, the standards are designed to be streamlined and focused, but require high-order thinking skills and a deeper understanding in key areas.”
While at least one website regarding these standards suggests that these standards will match up internationally as well, there is little indication how this will be done. A report in the resource section of the common core website, “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education,” outlines the plan for comparing U.S. outcomes to those in other countries. It also outlines the action plans, first of which is adopting these standards, which are all evidence-based examining expectations of high performing countries around the world and built upon the highest state standards in existence in the U.S.
The second part of the action plan in “Benchmarking for Success” is to establish materials, such as books, digital media and assessments that can be used to align the districts. Third is to actively work to devise policies to recruit, develop and support teachers. Fourth is to hold schools and systems accountable. The fifth part of the plan is maintain that assessment in an international context. The report outlines comparisons of how this can be maintained, and addresses the federal role.
There are questions to ask in your district.
One question is how grading will be affected by these standards. Many magnet schools in Connecticut have adopted a 1 through 5 grading system, in which a “2” equals a grade of 40 percent and a “3” equals a grade of 60 percent. So, while a “4” equals 80, which is close to a regular grade of a “B,” these lower grades are clearly not equal to a “C” or a “D,” perhaps leaving some misconception about what how well a student is doing.
Another question is how this is going to affect the current situation in which many children are not “left behind,” to quote the movement. Students in many schools in the Hartford area, which includes public and magnet schools, are not typically held back a grade anymore unless requested by a parent. For instance, there are students taking ninth grade English (having failed it three times) in one Connecticut public school in Hartford County. There are students getting help in math and English in one Connecticut magnet school in Hartford County that are struggling so much that they are not able to take any extra science or gym classes. Are these students going to be held back in the future if they do not measure up to the new assessments? What will happen to get them up to speed? These are questions that will likely have to be asked on the local level or at least the state level, since states are responsible for leading the continued movement.
Although not in the works by the NGA or CCSSO, movements for standards in world languages, science and arts are in the works by other organizations.