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President's Viewpoint

Stay on Course with Common Core

By NEA President Dennis Van Roekel

Imagine basing the batting average of one baseball player on at-bats against Cy Young winners, and basing another average on plate appearances in the minors. You couldn’t tell much by comparing the two numbers. That’s what No Child Left Behind has brought to schools across America.  In this age of sophisticated data, we shouldn’t put too much stock in an instrument as crude as a “one size fits all” standardized test.

For ten years, there has been an increased reliance on using standardized test results to judge students, teachers, and schools. But we haven’t created assessments that provide an accurate picture of student learning.

Under No Child Left Behind, states release test results supposedly indicating the number of students who are proficient in math and reading. The problem?  States set their own benchmarks for proficiency, holding different students to different standards.

NEA has been closely involved in the creation of the new Common Core State Standards. Our members have helped draft and review the proposed standards, which are voluntary and broad, provide clear goals outlining the skills students should master in each grade level, and promote critical thinking and knowledge of specific content.

Most important, standards will be consistent—state to state and school to school. Teachers and school districts will be able to develop their own curriculum, but there will be a generally accepted focus for each grade and subject.

Understandably, teachers are wary.  They understand the what of Common Core, but not the how of its implementation in the classroom. And they are skeptical that states and school districts will provide the kinds of resources educators need. Implementation must include time for teachers to adjust and collaborate with colleagues. Without critical support for educators and students during this transition, implementation of the Common Core will not succeed.

There is also the need to raise public awareness about the more rigorous standards that entered the classroom as this school year began. Most parents of K-12 students don’t know about the Common Core, so they don’t understand how it broadens authentic teaching and learning. This is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to create a new generation of student assessments that will measure the skills and knowledge students need to succeed today. 

To prepare members for the transition, NEA created a work group of interested educators and convened a strategy and idea-sharing meeting of education professionals from the states that have adopted the Common Core. They told us that teachers are apprehensive and have many unanswered questions. But educators’ overwhelming consensus is that the Common Core will ultimately help all children access an education that is challenging and complete.

Supporters of Common Core must explain the effort so that parents—and other members of the public—understand how the instructional shifts will affect students and what to expect from the new assessment results.

Change is hard. But this work is too important for us to turn back. By seeing it through we will move education into the modern era, and gain more meaningful and relevant data about student learning.

Parts of this column are adapted from a longer piece originally published by @GOOD.


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