Standards Opinion

A Teacher’s Mixed Review of Common Standards

By Kimberly Meller — April 29, 2014 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As a number of states revolt over the idea of implementing the Common Core State Standards, I think we need to take a step back, look at the standards objectively, and ask a few questions. Will the standards make educators better teachers? Will they make students better learners? That’s all that matters when you get down to it. If the standards are successful in achieving these goals, let’s call a truce. If they aren’t, let’s use our good sense and can them.

The common core is not an earth-shattering revolution, at least not for Iowa teachers, of which I am one. In 2008, the state implemented the Iowa Core, and we have been working to incorporate those standards into our classrooms ever since.

Having to meet standards and then being held accountable is an experience that everyone should have in his or her life. I have standards when I coach teachers. I have standards for the students in my classroom. My administration has standards for me, and those standards push me professionally and guide me in my teaching practice. Having standards makes me a better person and a better teacher. I think it’s fair for the nation to have standards when it comes to education. This seems like common sense.

Where I feel the Iowa Core (and possibly the common core) is getting it wrong is in the massive number of standards that teachers are required to cover—an issue I struggle with as a middle school social studies teacher. And by placing such heavy importance on the standardization of testing, we are also overlooking teachers as the true assessors of knowledge. This predicament could lead to subpar teaching and learning, particularly if educators are forced to rush through material just for the sake of covering it and then place all our value in learning to one test.

Having to meet standards and then being held accountable is an experience that everyone should have in his or her life.”

At times, I feel as if I’m drowning in Iowa’s social studies standards—there are roughly 160. I’m no math expert, but factoring in three years of middle school, I calculated that in order to cover all 160, a teacher would have roughly 3.3 days to teach each one. And that’s not counting the late starts and early outs; the days lost before and after any big holiday; or the countless time spent on discipline, fundraisers, or conversations with young impressionable teens about how to develop into socially acceptable human beings.

As any good educator knows, just because you’re standing in front of the room teaching your students, it doesn’t always mean that they are learning the material.

However, like all of us who are in a similar situation, I am concerned about standardized testing. I do believe standardized tests have value. They are one tool that helps teachers know what instruction to change and improve to help struggling students. I don’t believe standardized tests have all the answers, though. As I sat in on a literacy meeting with a sales representative for an assessment company recently, what I heard repeatedly was that its product would help raise our students’ test scores. I wondered: Are kids learning how to read better or just learning how to take a test?

I feel blessed to be in a school that lets teachers do their job, rather than replacing them with a workbook specifically aligned to deliver higher scores. Certain school districts place so much emphasis on raising reading and math test scores that they are not allowing some of their most talented teachers to teach, and are instead relying on prepackaged curricula that promise better scores.

I have talked to teachers and parents at a number of schools that rely so heavily on standardized tests that a portion of the teaching week is devoted just to practicing and gathering data for them. The 3rd grade daughter of a parent I know begged her mother to pull her out of school because of the anxiety created by these high-pressure tests.

We also know that with standardized learning that we cannot actually measure every standard by a test. For example, one Iowa Core standard reads: “Understand the importance of volunteerism as a characteristic of American society.” I believe this is a great standard. I know it’s important to develop character and citizenship in our youth and that volunteerism does this. But, how do you test for character? And if you can’t test for it, do you get rid of the standard? I hope not. I believe the most worthwhile thing I can do is have my 8th graders host a community breakfast for our veterans. When they get notes from veterans saying that this is the first time they have even been honored, the students understand that standard.

Many other countries have structured curriculum and standards. South Korea has a nationalized, structured curriculum with clear standards that yield high results. When I was in South Korea at a teaching seminar in 2009, I asked a young Korean teaching assistant if he thought his students were smarter than Americans, as a result of his country’s educational system. He replied, “We are taught how to be good test-takers; however, Americans are taught to be innovators and to think differently.” I have pondered this statement for many years, and have come to the conclusion that we produce innovators because we give teachers the freedom to teach outside the box.

This brings me back to my initial questions: Am I a better teacher as a result of teaching to the Iowa Core? And are my students learning more as a result? The verdict is still out, but I believe that common standards can be a useful tool for teachers, parents, and students. Still, we must remember that it is just one tool and not the be-all and end-all to solve all of America’s education problems. As long as we have teachers who foster true thinking with school leaders that back them up, the United States can continue to grow innovative young minds regardless of any new education policy.


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Standards Explainer What’s the Purpose of Standards in Education? An Explainer
What are standards? Why are they important? What's the Common Core? Do standards improve student achievement? Our explainer has the answers.
11 min read
Photo of students taking test.
F. Sheehan for EdWeek / Getty
Standards Florida's New African American History Standards: What's Behind the Backlash
The state's new standards drew national criticism and leave teachers with questions.
9 min read
Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation Hangar in West Columbia, S.C. July 18, 2023. For DeSantis, Tuesday was supposed to mark a major moment to help reset his stagnant Republican presidential campaign. But yet again, the moment was overshadowed by Donald Trump. The former president was the overwhelming focus for much of the day as DeSantis spoke out at a press conference and sat for a highly anticipated interview designed to reassure anxious donors and primary voters that he's still well-positioned to defeat Trump.
Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference in West Columbia, S.C., on July 18, 2023. Florida officials approved new African American history standards that drew national backlash, and which DeSantis defended.
Sean Rayford/AP
Standards Here’s What’s in Florida’s New African American History Standards
Standards were expanded in the younger grades, but critics question the framing of many of the new standards.
1 min read
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the historic Ritz Theatre in downtown Jacksonville, Fla., on July 21, 2023. Harris spoke out against the new standards adopted by the Florida State Board of Education in the teaching of Black history.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the historic Ritz Theatre in downtown Jacksonville, Fla., on July 21, 2023. Harris spoke out against the new standards adopted by the Florida state board of education in the teaching of Black history.
Fran Ruchalski/The Florida Times-Union via AP
Standards Opinion How One State Found Common Ground to Produce New History Standards
A veteran board member discusses how the state school board pushed past partisanship to offer a richer, more inclusive history for students.
10 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty