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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

NCTE President Asks to Slow Down the Common Core

By Peter DeWitt — June 03, 2013 3 min read
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“Real accountability for improving schools requires us to make smart decisions about measuring the factors that drive student engagement and achievement.” Sandy Hayes

After the past year, this would be a good time for state education departments to reflect on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Reflection would provide time to consider what has gone well and what has not. Unfortunately, many states are not taking the time to slow down the process. They are just simply moving forward, no matter how flawed their thinking may be at this point.

It is often said that the CCSS are about the “what” and not the “how.” Supporters of the CCSS state that they will lead to better learning outcomes and improve instructional practices. Opponents of the CCSS argue that the standards are more assessment driven, and not about improving learning outcomes.

How could educators think otherwise? In the first year of increased accountability, many states implemented the CC state assessments and tied them to teacher and administrator evaluation. That seems less about the students and more about accountability on the part of teachers and administrators.

Recently, Sandy Hayes, the President of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) pleaded for a moratorium on testing until the Common Core State Standards are right. She wants the process to slow down. Hayes said,

Ever since NCTE [National Council of the Teachers of English] provided a series of thoughtful critiques of the draft ELA Common Core Standards documents starting in 2009, the Council has been consistent in opposing implementation measures that would reduce teachers' flexibility in designing instruction, choosing materials, or using appropriate assessments to engage learners and improve equity across all classrooms."

Hayes continued, “It is clear that rushing into the next generation of high stakes assessments, long before implementation of significant improvements in the organizational conditions needed to advance learning, is a recipe for disaster.”

Many States Have a Different Perspective
When interviewing NY State Education Commissioner John King, he said, “It wouldn’t make sense to have assessments that didn’t reflect the standards.” It sounds like a valid argument. Unfortunately, states like New York are changing the weight (late in the game) of how assessments affect evaluation. The weight could increase, if the Board of Regents approves it this month, from 20% to 25% after the year is almost over. This is also in a year that they state that the assessments were more rigorous than ever.

If the assessments are not the most important aspect of the Common Core, why not spend a year not giving the test in order to make sure that they are correct? Why wouldn’t we just stop using high stakes testing as part of teacher and administrator evaluation all together? The assessment aspect is ruining any positive aspect of the CCSS.

Hayes cautions,

There is great risk that whatever good could come from new standards would be completely undermined by rushed implementation of standardized tests that would reduce school time for teaching and learning, attach high stakes consequences for students and teachers before any serious investment is made in improving conditions for learning, and rely heavily on technology for testing when there is ample evidence of persistent gaps in student access."

Professional Development is Lacking
Hayes goes on to say, “NCTE is not merely opposing flawed implementation schemes; we are building the case for constructive alternatives -- practical plans for building capacity to improve literacy learning in all schools.”

Considering increased mandates and accountability, along with serious budget cuts, it has been difficult for districts to create meaningful professional development for staff. Administrators, who also need professional development around the Common Core, have not been provided with great opportunities either.

Hayes says,

Invest in professional learning that is ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative, and linked to engaging literacy learners across grades and subjects and continues by saying "If we want to improve student learning over time, attention must be paid to strengthening the conditions that help educators work together to translate their learning into practice."

When states merely offer a website as their sole way of providing PD for the CCSS it does not help ease any anxiety regarding the initiative, and certainly leads to more questions than answers.

All of this seems to be more about accountability than about better student outcomes. State leaders and policymakers should listen to Hayes, and spend more time making sure they are doing their job correctly, because what they are doing is not working, and less time worrying about whether good schools are doing their jobs correctly.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.