Common Core For Dummies

An Australian teacher’s take on America’s Common Core State Standards…

I’ll start by saying I know nothing about the Common Core State Initiative, other than the often negative posts I read whilst blog-browsing (Read some heartfelt anti-Common Core posts here, here and here). So, here’s what little ol’ me down here in Australia has figured out so far…

What is the ‘Common Core’?
Most USA states have adopted the Common Core Standards which are purported to prepare students for their future – college and career. It has set new assessment benchmarks and specifies what children are expected to know and what skills they should master by the end of each year. Am I right so far?

Well there’s obviously been a great deal of backlash over the Standards and I’m in the process of figuring out why. I had a click around the Common Core website and it actually very much reminded me of Australia’s new National Curriculum. So, I’m clicking around thinking this aint so bad. In fact, I found the ‘anchor standards’ quite interesting and there isn’t anything too wrong with hoping for a consistent education for a country’s children, is there? So what’s the issue?

What’s the problem?
Could it be that, like most things to do with education at a political level, it has been written by businessmen, and politicians with no real grasp on the purpose of education, let alone what actually goes on at a classroom level? Is there an underlying issue that it has been developed to make money for the private sector, such as text book publishers, education business and so on? That doesn’t seem like enough to get so many American educators so furious. After all, sadly for education, that will always be a problem, until governments set their egos aside and allow teachers, parents and students to write the curriculum!

Is it the tests?
In Australia, we have so-called NAPLAN tests which students take every two years. These tests do virtually nothing to improve their learning, particularly as they are so infrequent and it takes many months for them to receive their scores after each test. Oddly, one of the primary uses of the NAPLAN data is to compare schools against other schools. Again, what does this do to improve student learning – and let’s not forget that that’s the whole reason we do this thing called education!? From what I’ve read it seems like one of the foundations of the Common Core is the rigorous testing schedule. Exactly how often kids are made to sit tests I’m not sure, but from my experience, biennial NAPLAN tests are more than often enough! Any American teacher reading this, exactly how often are your students expected to sit standardised tests? Standardised tests lead to stressed and depressed students as well as teachers. The whole ‘game’ of learning becomes about the test score. Teachers end up ‘teaching to the test’ in an effort to raise grades. Tests do little if anything to improve student learning and some say the assigning of grades actually damages learning.

Is it ruining education?
Aside from the fact that in most countries, standards are developed by people and companies that know little about education, and the downsides of tests, what other issues are there? Standards that are too rigid leave little room for creativity and teaching off-the-cuff or based on students’ passions, interests and most importantly, their learning needs. I’ve heard that the Common Core sets the standards, but it’s up to each state to develop their own curricula based on the standards, but I don’t know how that works in practice? Does the Common Core leave room for differentiating, or teaching students at their point of need, or is it the case that all year 4 students will learn the year 4 standards regardless of whether they should actually be learning year 3 standards or extended to year 5 or beyond? Is it a one-size-fits-all approach? Consider though, that pedagogy has a greater impact on student learning than curriculum. Could teachers say, oh well, these are the standards I have to teach to, but I can make it my own. Or has that been taken away too? Finally, do the standards focus on skills, understandings, applications, etc, or is it about rote learning?

So, I guess the question remains… Will the Common Core improve learning for all American students?

 Like I said, I don’t know much about these much-talked-about standards, so maybe some fellow bloggers can enlighten me, and as always, share their 2 cents!

 –  Teachling <WordPress> <Tumblr>

More from Teachling:
A teacher’s take on “How Children Learn”…


8 thoughts on “Common Core For Dummies

  1. In regards to your question of how often do we sit standardized tests: I teach middle school. My students sit for 11 standardized test sessions a year in the 8th grade. 3 tests (one for reading, one for writing, one for math) occur 3 times a year to measure growth. One predicts how well they’ll do on the PLAN , which predicts how well they’ll do on the ACT, which predicts how well they’ll do in college. If that doesn’t sound like extrapolation, I don’t know what does…

    • Wow, that’s a LOT. It sounds like it also takes away from the real purpose of assessment, which is to improve learning by giving teachers information with which to plan future learning for their students. I personally find the most useful assessment for my purposes, my actual observations of what my students do in the classroom, when they’re working on real problems and can articulate and demonstrate their understandings! Can I ask you then, what is all of that test data (11 per year!) actually used for?

  2. I’m a teacher-in-training, so my experience with standardized testing/the Common Core is limited. When I was in school, we sat for tests about once every few months on average. Now, as A indicated, the number of tests appears to have sailed substantially higher (I never had 11 in one year!). As far as the Common Core standards themselves are concerned, they’re actually quite vague. When taken as a group, it’s hard to see how you could fail to hit them so long as you’re focused on something even halfway relevant to your topic.
    For instance, the Common Core English standards for grades 11-12 (kids about 16-17 years old) say things such as, “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text…” or “By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.” (This is cut/pasted directly from the website.) Honestly, whatever you’re teaching, it’s pretty well impossible not to hit the standards…then again, if you’re showing movies or something all the time, you probably won’t hit any of ’em! Basically, the standards are being used to make sure that teachers are actually doing what they’ve been hired to do.

    • Thanks for replying! They do sound like Australia’s new Standards. Vague, and almost verging on the side of content descriptors rather than ‘progression points’.

      • I took a brief look at the Australia standards (they look like they’re a little better organized than ours!) Actually, there is a kind of progression in both. Every year builds on every other year. It’s just that real life teaching seems a little sloppier than that…

      • Thanks for replying. Yes, plus I suppose things like new curriculum initiatives, new pedagogical practices etc are bound to be easier for new and/or flexible teachers, rather than those that are stuck in their ways!

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