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Core of the Matter: The Common Core is Not Synonymous with Insanity (#CoreMatters)

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November 04, 2014 10:35 am


Consider the following performances by U.S. twelfth graders on the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card: 93 percent of African American and 88 percent of Latino twelfth-grade students perform at or below basic levels in mathematics, and 84 percent of African American and 77 percent of Latino twelfth graders perform at basic or below-basic in reading. The majority of these students are in the below-basic category. To put it simply, African American and Latino twelfth graders are unable to demonstrate mastery of the requisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for their grade level, and critical to their postsecondary transitions. This is inexcusable for a nation such as ours.

The Common Core State Standards offer a promising remedy to the egregious outcomes referenced above for students of color. However, it is imperative that the implementation of these new standards does not become a missed opportunity for schools that are largely focused on scoring high on state assessments rather than creating opportunities for deeper learning.

As the mother of an African American sixth grader who currently attends a school that is part of the deeper learning network, I am blessed that she was able to enroll in a school that inspires her to learn by participating in project-based, hands-on learning expeditions where she takes complete ownership of her learning and is challenged to grow as a thinker and a communicator. The school is intentional about valuing student voice and having high expectations for all students. It places minimal value on annual state assessments, despite the fact that it is rated as a District of Columbia Tier 1 charter school—meeting the highest performance standard.

This is a stark contrast from where my daughter’s educational journey began two years prior, when we were introduced to the Nation’s Capital of complex and competitive school options. During her first year, my daughter attended a school that used its students’ high performance on the annual state assessment as a promotional tool for student enrollment. As an education advocate, what impressed me initially about the school was their high performance on state assessments, despite the school being located in an area where African American students historically struggled in under-resourced schools. However, when it became clear to me that the school culture and pedagogical framework were centered on scoring “blue” and “green” on the Washington, DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS), I began to wonder if my daughter was truly learning anything meaningful that would apply in the real world. Then when in late spring she returned home from school one day and said, “Mom, all we did the whole year was practice for the DC-CAS, and now we actually get to enjoy learning.” I thought, “There has to be a better way.”

The Common Core State Standards, if properly implemented, can foster deeper learning and evict monotonous and excruciatingly-stifling rote memorization, regardless of a student’s perceived abilities. As the mother of an energetic middle-schooler who quickly tires of repetition, this is hopeful news—news that all school leaders and educators must latch on to in order to get the maximum return on investment from this unprecedented wholesale national education reform.  And as the NAEP data reveal, memorizing facts to score well on tests has not gotten us very far. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and yet expecting a different result. Let’s not drive our kids insane with these new standards and assessments.

Monica Almond is a policy associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Her blog post represents another in the Alliance’s “Core of the Matter” blog series focusing on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and struggling students. Click here to read other posts in the Core of the Matter series.

Common Core Equity Series

One Comment

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    Posted 6 years ago

    A powerful and very appropriately personalized advocacy for the CCSS. The implementation of the new standards will almost certainly bring a short period of confusion, maybe even an apparent step backwards in raw scores, as teachers adapt their skills to the new standards formulations, and as students come to terms with the higher cognitive demands that the CCSS prescribes. However, as Monica Almond notes here, one can foresee a resetting of the equity landscape once the standards become truly embedded in our school systems. Further, I think we should look for a strong improvement in the intellectual quality of learning in response to the deeper thinking and academic language goals of the CCSS. As an optimist, I truly believe we can trust student performance eventually to rise whenever we apply rising expectations.

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