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Originally published: 2014-06-27 11:34:02
Last modified: 2014-06-27 11:34:46

Don't abandon Common Core

I don't know on what basis Sen. Dan Soucek is calling for the abandonment of the Common Core Standards; whatever it may be, he has it wrong. If he had taken time to consult carefully with a variety of classroom teachers at all levels, as well as curriculum experts, they would all tell him the same thing: Implementing standards takes time. Consider what must happen when new standards are introduced to the schools: (1) teachers have to become familiar with the standards at all levels, but most importantly for the level they teach; (2) all lesson and unit plans that have been developed during time have to be reviewed to determine if they align with the new standards; if they do not, new lessons and units must be developed, tried and often revised; (3) each grade level is different and contains students who are at various developmental levels (there is no such individual as the "average" third- grader); teachers, therefore, must consider differentiating their instruction to ensure that each student has an equal opportunity to demonstrate performance measured against the new standards;  (4) and finally, adoption of new standards actually calls for a cumulative effect; that is, student work at one level is meant to prepare the student for the next level. Naturally, this becomes a cumulative process with a student accumulating both skills and knowledge and therefore, expecting students at each grade level to be automatically at standard level within one or two years when that student has not had the opportunity to gain the necessary prior new skills and knowledge is simply unreasonable. All of these listed things must be done, but they have to be done while teachers continue to teach and students have to continue to meet whatever "old" standards are still in place during the transition. Changing standards is not an overnight proposition.

For instance, if a student has been used to memorizing information and then regurgitating it on tests, but suddenly is asked to problem solve or engage in critical thinking, that switch takes time -- time that is not necessarily there at just one grade level. An expectation that all students at, say, the fifth-grade level will be at grade level by the end of the year as measured by a new standard of performance and process is, as many educators will tell you, not reasonable. 

With time and prior preparation, yes, students can be expected to gradually meet new standards, but the normal one or two years of preparation are insufficient as a test of whether new standards are appropriate or not. A similar case can be made for assessments, which also have to be new, and as such are relatively untested and therefore not yet valid and reliable for most test populations.

I have been in public education for 51 years as both a teacher and an administrator and have watched North Carolina in the past few years develop new standards and assessments and then within a year or two, discard them and try another set; none is ever given an opportunity to mature and be assessed fairly. 

Soucek's efforts may be well meant, but they are not in the best interest of schools, students or teachers, nor are they, based on past history, likely to yield any higher standards than those now being criticized. 

As Interim Superintendent David Fonseca of Watauga County Schools has aptly pointed out, much of the information about the standards is inaccurate, based more often on what the state has done with its own standards in the past than on the intent or the possibilities for the new national standards.

So what to do? Stay the course. Monitor the effects of the new standards and make adjustments as necessary; the same can be said for the assessments. After three or four years, when sufficient reliability and validity have been established, then begin to form judgments about effectiveness and appropriateness. Or, as the old saying goes, "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water." As it is, Soucek's proposed "standard" bathtub won't wash the way he and others would have us believe.

Charles R. Duke, dean emeritus, Reich College of Education, Appalachian State University