Student Well-Being Opinion

Don’t Hate the Standards, Hate the Test

By Starr Sackstein — August 18, 2014 3 min read
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Never has the word “standard” been so hated.

Since the beginning of my relationship with the Common Core Standards, I have listened to respected colleagues, parents and students spew venom about them because of the saddest misguided entanglement they have to the new testing initiatives.

I will be the first person to say I don’t agree with testing: not on the national level, state level or even classroom level; there are just too many other ways to assess students’ learning that are far more effective. (But this is a matter for another conversation.)

That being said, testing and the standards are two separate entities.

Until the Common Core Standards came into the public’s vocabulary, every state had its own standards; they were broken into content area and they were used as a measure by which students were judged to show proficiency for graduation. And we were all okay with that, because we agree that there needs to be standards to determine the level of student achievement. We may not have liked the specific verbage of all of the standards, but we certainly agreed that it was appropriate for them to be in place.

All that is different with the Common Core is that the language has been adjusted and the standards apply across curricula. They are skill-based, prizing critical thinking above content because let’s face it, skills can be applied to any number of subjects. No longer is reading and writing only a part of the English curriculum. They put the emphasis on non-fiction texts, presumably to prepare students for career or college readiness.

For several years now, my school has been a Common Core pilot school. We have been sent for PD and asked to include the new standards in our rubrics and curriculum choices.

Granted, no one likes to change curriculum maps that have taken them forever to generate, but when one looks closely at what the Common Core is saying, it’s not really bad... not bad at all.

As a matter of fact, most of us do it already and advocate for it.

  • Adjusting teaching to be more about skills based learning instead of being content heavy
  • Allowing for more informational texts of varying complexity
  • Teaching students to use evidence from set texts to support an argument
  • Developing ideas with increased revision and focus on process and reflection
  • Using these skills across content and appropriately ramping them up K-12
  • Understanding the overlap in our subject areas and helping kids become career/college ready
  • Inclusion of technology and media
  • Focus on language and vocabulary acquisition

So far, do you see anything inherently bad?

I don’t.

As an AP literature teacher, admittedly I was concerned about the fiction/literature to non-fiction ratio in 11th and 12th grade, but there are ways to maintain the literature with well-planned informational texts that supplement the lit and can be differentiated appropriately.

If each of us is trying to prepare students for life, why not have a common set of standards nationally that help to define what those standards are?

As a natural outgrowth of meeting the charge to define college and career readiness, the Standards also lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person in the twenty-first century. Indeed, the skills and understandings students are expected to demonstrate have wideapplicability outside the classroom or workplace. Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoyingcomplex works of literature. They habitually perform the critical reading necessary to pick carefully through the staggering amount of information available today in print and digitally.They actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens worldviews. Theyreflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence that is essential to both private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic. In short, students who meet the Standards develop the skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening that are the foundation for any creative and purposeful expression in language." (Taken from the Common Core website)

Nothing in that paragraph suggests that a teacher will be stifled by these new standards. It’s about moving education into the 21st century. It’s about making kids viable in this world.

Like the Constitution, it’s all about interpretation. Here are the standards, how we define and implement them in our classes is on each of us. Creating innovative lessons, projects and experiences for kids to explore and learn through, is up to us to align them with these new standards (which most of us already do).

To reiterate, the standards are NOT the tests, even if the testing companies have adopted and abused them. We can’t let testing companies control how we run our classrooms or how we interpret the standards.

But adjustments need to be made; if it wasn’t these standards, it would have been different ones.

Change is challenging for everyone and this shift is the biggest one in a long time for education. And it’s happening, whether we like it or not. So what we make of it, is what matters, remembering the scripted lessons that companies are trying to capitalize on and the tests that they are preparing students for are only one link in the chain. We, as teachers with our students are all the other links.

Let’s help students understand the standards and help them rewrite them to make them useful to them at every age.

How can we change this seeming-negative into a positive? How do we get our colleagues on board? Let’s collaborate to make this transition an easy one.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.