Common Core here to stay?

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Common Core Murray

Alexa Murray

A. Murray

A new round in the era of student testing is in.

This year, Ohio’s New Learning Standards (more commonly known as the Common Core) and associated testing will go into effect. This development can be traced through the long history of education reform back to Sputnik and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

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Although vested interest in education reform had previously existed, the Soviet launch of Earth’s first artificial satellite crystallized in the minds of many the need for a change in US education–as a matter of national security in addition to economic and technological potency on the international level. Combined with concerns over equality and accountability, this spurred on several measures that would change the national dialogue on education.

Created as a part Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, the ESEA created accountability measures to address the achievement gap. Around the same time the National Assessment of Educational Progress was developed to track trends in geographic, chronological, and eventually demographic achievement.

Revamped and renamed as “No Child Left Behind” during the Bush administration, the 2001 reauthorization of ESEA allowed states to develop their own standards and assessments. For Ohio, this meant the Ohio Graduation Tests and district rating systems used in recent years. For other states, it meant completely different standards with different assessments.

Two years later the National Center for Educational Progress began releasing studies that compared the state standards with NAEP results. The results have shown that standards of achievement vary significantly across states. As far as rigor goes, many states’ definitions of “proficient” were at or below national standards for “basic performance.”

The newest revision in national education accountability is Race to the Top, a competitive federal program that offers grants to applicants that show a comprehensive plan for education reform.

In 2009 a state-led initiative to better prepare students for careers and postsecondary education emerged as the Common Core. Many states have used the Common Core as the road to working with Race to the Top.

The State Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards in June 2010 and joined a coalition of states known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), eventually becoming a governing member. PARCC has worked in consortium with the education company Pearson to develop testing in line with the Common Core standards and has been granted an award by Race to the Top.

This fall, the state standards were renamed Ohio’s New Learning Standards. These standards cover the four academic areas of English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies and will lead to noticeable changes in the classroom.

According to Kings Secondary Curriculum Director Matt Freeman, “Administrators and teachers are working together in professional development to make instructional changes that include more opportunities to write in every class, to practice problem solving, and to read more difficult pieces of text, including more nonfiction.”

The standards are designed to make students competitive on the international level, meaning students will be working with more complex materials.

“We are working to make sure our instruction matches the level of rigor required in the standards,” Freeman explains. “Instructionally, we know students need to have opportunity to tackle challenging problems and develop possible solutions and use evidence from various sources to support our arguments.”

Parents and students can read the standards online resources to better understand the new standards on the curriculum page of the district website.

The most challenging aspect of the standards for Kings and many other districts will be the testing. Starting this year, PARCC assessments will be administered online–a logistically formidable task that will require what Freeman calls “our fleet of Chromebooks.” The district is also working to make sure students have exposure to the online testing format.

Freeman says, “These tests are divided in two sections–a performance based assessment (PBA) taken in February/March and an end of year assessment (EOY) taken in May.”

The PBA in English Language Arts (ELA) will focus on reading comprehension and writing while analyzing texts while the math will focus and reasoning and modeling, including written portions.

As Freeman explains it, “The EOY will be more multiple choice in format and will focus again on reading comprehension and how well students use evidence to support thinking while the math EOY will ask students to demonstrate a solid understanding of math concepts and mathematical fluency.”
Kings has already made adjustments to teaching based on assessment blueprints from PARCC, but if needed will make further curriculum changes based on the results.

Although the preparations go on, political wrangling at the state level may mean that mean that the work is for naught: a bill to revoke the Common Core standards and PARCC involvement has been raised in the Ohio General Assembly. In the meantime districts–if not left in the lurch then at least left in legal limbo–must be prepared for anything and continue with the Common Core.