Parents For and Against Common Core

As the denouement approaches for Common Core testing in New York State, many stakeholders appear to be falling in line with the consensus of the masses…doing everything to encourage students or school systems to opt out of the testing. When students return from spring recess across the State in April, the balance of the month will involve days of testing…or days of quiet reading as many parents contemplate – or have already provided written opt-out requests for their children.

Imagine the track and field sport “high jump.” Do we use this as an opportunity to stop resting on our laurels and help more students to strive to improve from jumping at 3 feet to 5 feet, or do we encourage more parents to sign letters that say they refuse to jump?

One local district on Long Island has continued to push this issue since the summer with two attention-getting, but somewhat shallow gesture efforts:

  • letter from its Superintendent of schools to a local State Senator this summer, requesting help, or asking the Senator to “initiate proceedings to have me removed as Superintendent” based loosely upon the dramatic decrease in student proficiency levels given new standards.
  • school board resolution demanding the suspension of educator evaluations test data as 20% of the total score, and abandon future efforts to increase that level to 50% of the total score, or else the school board will “seriously consider not administering the New York State standardized ELA and Math exams.”

Meanwhile, Indiana’s Superintendent of the Year is encouraging parents to “home school their children during the week of local state testing. Even my home district sent home letters to parents, indicating a process to follow if parents wanted to opt-out of State testing. Yet despite all of the hype and motivation on a grass roots level to push my children to opt-out, and my own disagreement with the way in which Common Core standards are being interpreted, taught and evaluated, I am encouraging my children to take the tests. No, I’m not bribing my kids, but I am standing beside them in support of the hard work they’re doing.

Excuse me?

Yes, I am one of those parents that do want the best for my children. The very principle behind Common Core standards was for states to agree to implement higher expectations for every student. If implemented properly, tests should no longer be focused on basic “drill and skill” or “rogue memorization” alone – like cramming for a test as so many of us did in our childhoods. Instead questions blend several skills into each question. That emphasizes the need for better critical thinking skills – likely one of the most important and least emphasized skill – younger people need to be successful in the work force. Otherwise we are left with automatons incapable of thinking for themselves.

Adopting Common Core hasn’t been easy in my home. With a child struggling in certain subjects, I’ve seen the tears, the self-fulfilling prophecy that “I’m going to fail.” But I have also watched as she has motivated herself, improved her study skills and take ownership of her education in a way that would impress most college professors. Her test scores this spring may not be above standards, but I couldn’t be prouder of the work she’s done.

Now before the comments start attacking me, let me be clear. The way some states are using the test results, and the way some of these learning standards are being interpreted by curriculum and assessment companies is less than perfect. In fact it is plain wrong. I’m not going to address many of the fallacies of argument presented by dissenting groups, but focus on more logical issues.

  • Common Core tests should be used for student learning – nothing else: Technology-based assessments have the ability to clearly identify what a child understands, doesn’t understand and get to the heart of “why” they don’t understand it. Its use for virtually any other reason is severely flawed. Its purpose was, and should remain, to measure student learning and provide two-way guidance to help schools and teachers recognize individual student weaknesses and recommend strategies to overcome them.
  • Using test data as a significant means of evaluating educators creates the mentality of high-stakes testing: Such motivation places pressure on educators who, in turn, pass that pressure onto the students unintentionally. It also fosters an environment where test results – versus actual improved student skills – becomes the priority at all costs. Given recent headlines around large scale cheating scandals across school systems such as Atlanta and others, the environment being created by politicians will only magnify the problem. As I’ve mentioned before, to quote the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, “What is tested counts, but much of what counts cannot be tested.” Educators are responsible for the “whole student” and we should leave it to local school boards to determine if they have the most talented staff, and empower them with the resources to take action for less effective staff.
  • Raising the bar for learning standards involves change management that states and school districts are unprepared to handle: The Comsewoque Superintendent’s letter is a clear example of the change management flaw…not necessarily on his part but that of the State and Common Core leaders. But his letter suggests that “passing rates” for his students has dropped from 90% to 35%. Why do we attribute “proficiency” levels with “passing rates”? We are raising the bar, and that means more students need to stop coasting and will need to work a little harder to achieve the higher standard. The Common Core movement did a wonderful job convincing governors and state education leads years ago, but did little to help inform parents or provide the guidance for changes necessary in stakeholder communication, among other instructional needs.

Imagine the track and field sport “high jump.” Assume the bar was previously set at 3 feet and most of the children easily met that bar. Now we want children to do better, and we increase the bar to 5 feet. Suddenly a large percentage of children who used to excel at high jump now can’t clear the bar. Do we use this as an opportunity to stop resting on our laurels and help more students to strive to do better, or do we encourage more parents to sign letters that say they refuse to jump?

Elliott Levine is Americas Education Strategist for HP. A former K-12 official and regular public speaker, he has worked for and launched start-ups in the education and marketing industries. He is featured as one of three HP employees making a difference opinions expressed are personal and may not represent those of HP. You can learn more about him



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