Will Common Core Change Everything?
We must note that educators and students may have gotten really good at preparing for the wrong outcomes in the last decade of education. As Common Core standards and assessments are implemented, many districts are seeing dramatic drops in standardized test scores in most areas and grade levels. Stories of low scores hitting the newspapers make for shocking reading, but they don’t really get at the true meaning of what has happened. Students got very good at practicing for and taking standardized tests in that No Child Left Behind decade. Teachers were really good at teaching to tests, because they had to. Now that those tests are changing, that practicing to the test doesn’t work well anymore. Teaching to the test was and is an awful idea that has no national boundaries, and if we walk that path again, we will diminish all the good that Common Core, or any good teaching and learning idea, can provide.
When you listen to the best educators talk about Common Core teaching, what you will hear is good, experiential lessons where teachers provide students with options for discovery in their learning. Students research, create, and back up those discoveries using all the tools at their disposal, including technology. There are no workbooks for this, and no amount of wall-hanging best-test-practice posters can take the place of teaching that sort of how-to in the classroom each day. That’s teaching, and that’s learning, and that is what’s needed in the classroom and beyond.
Superintendents are now dealing with those not-so-stellar standardized test scores, while at the same time telling educators to stay the Common Core course. School leaders are also trying to explain why those test scores aren’t as good, too. Changing the path is normal and understandable. However, sometimes the pendulum swings too far in an effort to do it. The best warning this time may be that students can’t be led down another path that teaches to the test, because that is not what Common Core means, or what teaching and learning should be. The bottom line is that a day of student learning wasted is too much time lost, let alone a year—or unforgivably—a decade. We need to get this as close to right as possible this time.
As children enter school this year, you’ll discover that some of the curriculum mapping has changed. Some things that were taught later are being moved up to earlier grades. While that’s not new, and can be beneficial, like earlier algebra teaching in mathematics, there should also be a warning. Are we changing the order of teaching content because it is appropriate for students, or are we moving that content because it is better for test results? Remember that No Child Left Behind had all the best intentions. The Common Core is an idea that, if done right, can be a way to get back to great experiential teaching and learning. If that is done daily, and educators have the professional development and tools needed, standardized test scores will find their appropriate levels, and it will be done with the least possible test-taking training. Emphasis will be placed, again, on what students do and learn, rather than who has had the best practice in test-taking skills.