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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Common Core? Standardized Tests?

I read an article in the Boston Globe about a movement to get rid of the Common Core. I thought a lot about it, and I disagree. I view the common core as a well researched guide of foundation learning principles, concepts, and skills. Since the common core started, I believe the teaching has become richer and deeper.

Yet, as I agree, I also recognize that there's room for growth and change.

A Developmental, Progressive Approach vs. Grade Level Approach
First, the grade-level approach of the common core is not an easy fit for many children and many schools. This grade-level approach assumes that students all progress at similar levels, and we know that this is not true. While there may be some general trends in student development, when it comes to mastery there's all kinds of scatter dependent on time in the country, first language, academic support at home, physical health, special education issues, and social/emotional well being. These are all real factors that affect teaching and learning, and to deal with these factors well takes time and attention--the same time and attention the common core requires with regard to steady progress. Hence, progress that's recognized as normal growth for the common core will differ from student to student and system to system. Hence I suggest that we test common core mastery with a developmental, progressive approach which looks for good progress, but doesn't punish students and teachers when a child does not make grade-level, but instead looks closely at how to help every child progress in meaningful, positive ways.

Rich, Deep Learning
Since teachers and students are expected to meet grade level standards, often good teaching is replaced by teaching to the test. This happens because teachers and students are under pressure to demonstrate proficiency on these tests. Good teaching takes the time needed for deep, meaningful learning. Good teaching sets the pace with regard to student self esteem, steady growth, and meaningful, engaging and empowering learning. One issue with the common core is that while it's less standards, it's still too many and too fast as we think about all the other important skills, teaching points, and activities healthy, happy children need.

Less Tests
I agree with the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education that there is value with some testing, but I think we can work towards less tests in our systems and State. Instead of spending lots and lots of time and money on tests, I'd rather see that money spent on good technology and good teaching for every school system, and then simplify and streamline the standardized testing.

Happy, Healthy, Successful, Smart Children
Schools differ substantially from place to place, but one common denominator is that we want to support happy, healthy, successful, smart children. Massachusetts has done a good job with this, but there is still room for growth.

First, let's not spend lots of time and money reworking the common core. Let's make MCAS 2.0 a streamlined, standards-based, progressive test set where students test up to their current level of performance and then test again beginning where they left off the year before. Some of my students would likely test up to 8th grade and others would test out at 3rd grade. I'm sure a similar or even greater spread occurs in every school in the state.

Next, let's give teachers, students, families, and schools, the time and resources they need to support healthy, happy, successful, smart children. This action will have to be sensitive to the variation in need and context of schools across the State. There are schools in urban districts that get lots of positive support and there are schools that don't. Let's study this closely and help out. There are schools in pocketed rural and suburban areas in great need too. Let's look at that. Looking at how we support all students across the State is work being done and work that should continue--this is a good use of resources vs. undoing or redoing standards that serve as a guide to good teaching and learning.

Change-Weary
Massachusetts' educators are change-weary. Rather than upheave the entire system, let's look at revision and refinement at this time. Lessen tests, provide more sensitive support, streamline the evaluation system, and create greater depth and care with what we do instead.