What must America's classroom teachers think as they begin a new school year in the looming shadow of the Common Core State Standards? As a veteran secondary school teacher, and parent of three college graduates, I foresee multiple Common Core challenges for already stressed students, teachers and school districts.
Oregon is one of 46 states that have adopted and will implement Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in math and English/language arts, setting unified learning goals for elementary and secondary grade levels nationwide. That requires an enormous commitment of time and money, both scarce resources in public education. As with so many previous experiments in education, CCSS offers no guarantee of effectiveness, but plentiful challenges for educators.
Every student is unique. As a former algebra teacher I know that some students are algebra-ready in grade seven, others in grade nine. Some need honors level classes to be academically engaged; others need remedial classes to build a foundation for learning. Some excel in math and science, others in language arts and social sciences.
If the Common Core State Standards are to benefit all our unique students, how many semesters will teachers need to revise lessons and learning materials so their teaching builds on previously learned material set forth by the Common Core? How can the thousands of new Common Core-based textbooks and other resources be properly assessed for effectiveness? When is it reasonable to begin testing the CCSS and holding students and teachers accountable?
As educators face these challenges, purveyors of common core-based learning materials and assessments face opportunities for financial profits. "College Board Enters Common-Test Market" is a front page story in Education Week, August 21 issue. Known for its college entrance exam, the SAT, the College Board plans to begin aligning that test to the Common Core. It is also expanding its products to include tests for grades eight through entering college students, all based on CCSS which America's schools are unprepared to teach due to insufficient time and resources.
Interestingly David Coleman, who became the College Board's president a year ago, was a "chief writer of the common standards in English/language arts," says Education Week." And the College Board is just one of several companies talking to state legislators and educators about providing the high-tech assessments required by the Common Core. ACT, Inc., producer of the ACT college-entrance exam, is now preparing "a brand-new suite of common core tests...(for)...elementary through high school", says the article.
Properly assessing the achievement of Common Core standards nationwide will require high-tech methods. "The U.S. Department of Education, under Secretary Arne Duncan, has awarded $360 million to the consortia working on common-core aligned tests." (Educ. Week, Aug. 21) As behemoth publishing companies market costly online products to large groups of states, they are "being hammered over what some educators and activists see as undue influence on teaching, learning and testing." (Educ. Week, "Rifts Deepen Over Direction of Education Policy in U.S." May 8 issue)
Computer based learning and testing raises many issues in addition to "undue influence" by providers. How much upgrading of school computers and networks will be needed ? As scarce funding is diverted to that process, what valuable school programs — like music, art or athletics — will be sacrificed? What kind of permanent database will store our children's school records, and how accurate will the data be?
"Widespread technical failures and interruptions of recent online testing in a number of states have shaken the confidence of educators and policymakers in high-tech assessment methods and raised serious concerns about schools' technological readiness for the coming common-core online tests." ("Online Testing Suffers Setbacks in Multiple States," Educ. Week, May 8)
With the spigot of federal dollars pouring out to producers of Common Core-based assessments, several companies are currently competing for that largess. In recent public comments, the College Board's president Coleman "encouraged business leaders to embrace the 'pluralism' of the evolving marketplace, in which some states will use consortium tests and others will choose different assessments." (Educ. Week, Aug. 21)
But if different states use different assessments, and make different decisions about what scores indicate proficiency, then how common — or comparable — are the results? Would these dollars be better spent in our nation's classrooms than on high-priced, high-tech assessments and databases? Or will more precious education dollars be misspent ?
How meaningful is a Common Core of Standards, and will Oregon school districts and thousands of others nationwide overcome the Common Core's inherent challenges to guarantee that our children are the beneficiaries?
Betty R. Kazmin of Medford taught algebra for 20 years in Los Angeles public and private secondary schools, and served on the board of education in Willard, Ohio.