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Common Core- Why the controversy? March 9, 2015

Posted by ajackl in Education.
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2 comments

A friend of mine recently posted a Facebook entry that included a good explanation of why math is being taught differently now than years ago and then another posted a link to a set of complaints about Common Core. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/07/a-16-year-old-takes-the-new-parcc-exam-heres-her-disturbing-report/)

This is an interesting problem. Many of the complaints conflate the actual problems into one generic “Common Core is terrible” kind of statement.   I don’t believe that is accurate.  I think there ARE many many problems with how Common Core is being executed.  Her eare 8 issues that need to be addressed separately but I hear them compressed together as one issue all the time:

(1) There are those that dislike standardized tests in general- for those people the Common Core will always not be acceptable because they do not accept the fundamental premise upon which it is designed.  That is fodder for another article.

(2) There are those that have issue with the nature of how the PARCC and SBAC consortium were created and administered as a political issue.  That also is another topic and  doe snot address the educational aspects at all.   It also connflates the test with the pedagogical approach of the Common Core.

(3) There are those that say the Common Core is too broad and the standards are not granular enough to guide instruction.  Even the Common Core creators agree with that – but we have to start somewhere.

(4) The physical execution of the test can be flawed or challenging- in the case of the linked article the students was not used to a particular device (a Chromebook in that example)

(5) Poorly designed test items.  This is difficult – there will always be variance in quality of items on the best test. Out of thousands of items critics will be able to find a few  real stinkers.  I am not sure how to best compare the PARCC or SBAC tests to others to determine how many bad items is too many?  A good question but one that has to be looked at as a comparison to other tests NOT that there are some bad items.

(6) How time is managed in the school schedule to have the students take the tests.  This is an issue with how we design  our school schedules and how we approach test preparation.  This has little to do with Common Core though critics often blame the “Common Core” for “teaching to the test” and taking away valuable instruction time.   I think this IS a valid conversation for people to be having but they need to be clear this isn’t about Common Core – it is about how Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents are dealing with a new culture of accountability (for better or worse- I make no value judgement on that at all).

(7) The timing of the tests compared to the timing of the schools instruction and pedagogy.  A student being in the middle of Algebra II and then being tested on those concepts as if she had completed Algebra II.  This alignment of instruction ot assessment is a serious issue and one that must be dealt with but has nothing to do with the Common Core conceptually- it is a function of scheduling and timing.

All of these have little to do with the IDEA of Common Core- they are about the execution of it. Some districts and states have done a wonderful job with that and others- not so much. I think we need standardized tests (can’t see any way around it really) and we need to be as research-based and smart about it as possible and clear that it isn’t the be all and end all of understanding a student’s “learning status”. That being said – I think we need Common Core and we should be focused on improving it and its execution NOT fighting it.

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