Being Clear about the Common Core, Clarified

Note: This is a revised and updated version of a previous post. The gist of the article remains the same. Information about standards revisions and transitions has been updated.

The Common Core State Learning Standards are standards. Not curriculum. Not tests. Not evaluation. Standards.

Standards are the “to do” list for learning. They are a list of the things we want students to know, understand, be able to do, and be like. In 1996, New York State issued a complete set of standards for all subject areas and grade levels. There were twenty-three sets of standards that were organized into seven bundles. For example, math, science, and technology were grouped together in a bundle of seven standards (and the accompanying detail). Similarly, Health, Physical Education and Family and Consumer Science were bundled together. The standards that were published in 1996 introduced the term Languages Other Than English (LOTE) to our vocabulary. The Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) standards identified career-specific skills as well as the set of universal skills for all students (very similar to what we now call 21st century skills). All in all, this collection of standards specified the goals for the students of New York. Subsequently, content guides and other explanatory materials were released by the State Education Department (SED), but the standards remained the same until the Common Core came along.

The development of the Common Core State Standards (repackaged as the Common Core Learning Standards in New York) was led by the governors and chief school officers from the states and not by the federal government. Most states quickly adopted the standards when they were released. New York added a little bit to the standards before adopting them, primarily early childhood level standards which weren’t originally included. The US Department of Education eventually incentivized the adoption of the Common Core with Race To The Top money, but they have never been a requirement. There is no law that says that states must use the Common Core.

It is important to have common standards in our states, if not nationally, because our society is so mobile. It’s much better for our children if they pick up where they left off when they move or relocate. It’s also more efficient to develop educational resources when there is a commonality about what is to be learned, and when. Standards are no big deal – they are an agreed-upon “to do list.” It is a good idea to have common goals for our children and their education. New York is currently working on new sets of standards for science. Certainly we should have science standards that are more recent than 1996. The Board of Regents should see a draft of science standards soon.

The math and ELA standards are going to be revised in New York State. SED has conducted a survey about these two sets of standards and will use that feedback to make adjustments to them. That process of revision is just about to get underway, and SED is partnering with the BOCES and Big Cities to ensure that the process involves a lot of teachers. Once a draft of revisions has been prepared, another round of feedback collection will occur, this time through fora held in regions across the state. The data collected in those regional sessions will then be used to revise the draft revisions before they are presented to the Board of Regents in the fall of 2016. According to the timeline presented to the Board of Regents, any revisions wouldn’t be reflected in the state assessment s until the spring of 2019.

Different states have different standardized testing regimens that were required by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and now by Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); states must test all students each year in grades 3-8 English and mathematics, as well as once in high school math and English. A science testing requirement is also specified (elementary, middle-level, and high school). Additionally, some states have more assessments that might be required. In New York, Regents Examinations have been a common part of high school life for more than a century. Although testing remains a federal requirement, states are responsible for the development, administration, and results of assessments. There have been some changes with regard to accountability under ESSA, but states continue to be required to identify the lowest performing 5% of schools and to have some process of improvement for those lowest-performing schools and districts.

New York made a deliberate decision to change the 3-8 tests in order to align them to the Common Core Learning Standards. The State Education Department sets the cut-points. It was recently concluded that New York now has the most rigorous standards of any state in the country.

Whether or not you like the state tests, they are not a part of the Common Core Learning Standards. The standards are a list of goals and objectives; they are not a test. We should keep them straight.

Although temporarily suspended, teacher and principal evaluation has been tied to the results of these tests. This has been true since the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) scheme was changed to §3012-c. It is important to note that this is not when APPR began. As a condition for receiving Race To The Top funding, the state had to adopt such a system. Annual performance appraisals were required for teachers previous to this but were not tied to student achievement scores on state tests. Now, we have §3012-d (as well as a transition version of §3012-d that de-couples state-provided growth scores and evaluation). Student performance and evaluation, at least for the moment, remain connected. This is not a part of the Common Core Learning Standards. This is evaluation connected to tests. Not Standards.

The Common Core Learning Standards are a list. They are not an evaluation system. They are not a series of tests. What happened was that the tests and evaluation system changed at approximately the same time as the Common Core Learning Standards were adopted. People have and continue to conflate these separate components of the system. We should keep them straight.

The drama in social media and in state and local politics continues to mix things up. Whether it is out of ignorance or because it plays well on the airwaves and in cyberspace is not clear. Nonetheless, the drama and conflation continues, and it just might be hurting our children. All of the drama detracts from the work that teachers and leaders are trying to do in our schools across the state. Teachers, administrators, and most importantly, students, have a finite amount of energy to give to the process of learning. The drama simply draws some of that finite energy away.

The standards are a list of things for our students to learn. Educators should be clearer when we speak about the Common Core and stop mixing up those lists with testing and evaluation schemes. If those need fixing, let’s fix them, but let’s talk about them as tests and evaluation schemes and not the Common Core. We have work in our schools that needs to be done.

Craig_Jeff_150pxJeff Craig

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