Father Time has turned a page in his calendar again and the New Year is upon us. I, for one, am excited—especially because we have inched that much closer to the adoption of the Common Core State Standards
I spent a lot of time during my break thinking about the new standards. Re-reading them, listening to and contemplating tons of commentary, unpacking and then re-mixing ways to approach them (and so on), and the more I dive in—the more I reflect, the more I internalize and absorb them—the bigger fan I am of adopting Common Core
Perhaps I could list 20 reasons why this is the case if I truly wanted to make the effort, but instead I’ll focus right now on a lean and pertinent two. #1: The death knell for weak multiple choice tests has been sounded
. Hooray, I say! The fact is, I’m not really sure who amongst us isn’t happy to hear this chime begin to ring throughout the national educational kingdom.
As so many of us know, No Child Left Behind brought us a plague of poor assessments (perhaps the peak of it can be found here
), and over the past decade standardized tests have become the unfortunate tail that wags the schoolhouse dog. Principals have been fired over poor test results, teachers have been publicly ostracized—and terminated—over poor test results
, and the underground resistance which has vociferously been shouting from the rooftops, “Your tests stink as student performance measures and are actually doing more harm than good to our schools” is about to see the notch of victory be etched into their collective belts.
Common Core is too complex, too rich, too demanding and too forward-thinking to be captured in a mere A, B, C, or D form of student assessment. In fact, our nation is seeing a bold new series of groups (namely, this one
and this one
) build better student evaluation mousetraps. Some of the ideas I’ve seen kicked around have me smiling at the notion that, “Hey, this ain’t your momma’s rote memory, lower-level Bloom’s type of test anymore.”
The coming assessments are going to be adaptive, multi-layered, trans-media, technology-based (of course) and far more insightful in terms of actually getting to see what a student really knows than anything we’ve poured billions into over the past ten years.
And yes, they are going to be much more challenging, as well. Which leads me to my second cause for celebration. #2: The overall academic challenges our students will face will be much more demanding, but also more relevant as well.
The Common Core will raise the bar, and though there are skeptics—some of whom make some credible points
—on the whole, I believe that Common Core is an elevation.
- Common Core puts a premium on writing unlike any we’ve ever had before.
- Common Core puts a premium on re-reading and close reading, unlike anything we’ve ever had before.
- Common Core recognizes the interdependent relationship between reading and writing and places a premium on students being able to read well and then write (cogently) in response to what they have read… unlike anything we have ever had before.
- Common Core places a premium on all of the aforementioned occurring in an interdisciplinary capacity—across all disciplines, across all grade levels—unlike anything we’ve really seen before.
This is “life tools beyond the K–12 classroom” stuff. After all, as so much data shows, people who read well and write well attain a sense of success
in America that transcends mere income.
Highly literate people:
- Vote more.
- Are incarcerated less.
- Play a more active role in the community.
- Live longer lives.
- And so on…
See, Common Core isn’t shying away from asking more
of many, many American students than our classrooms have been traditionally asking of them. “Raising expectations” used to be an empty buzz phrase that admins would casually toss around at their cozy little district offices. With Common Core, expectations have actually been raised and for some folks, the actual sight of this is terrifying.
Being somewhat afraid is a good thing. In a way, American schools have become somewhat stale and those butterflies we’re all feeling in our bellies are a sign, to me, that BIG CHANGE is coming. I’m not alone in thinking that the United States has become too comfortable, too filled with a sense of self-entitlement, and this sense of national hubris could very much be the trigger which precedes a great fall
Our schools can certainly be more demanding. Common Core plans to tackle this issue head on.
Ultimately, I guess I don’t really have a problem with higher expectations. However, I do have a problem with unrealistic expectations. If the right PD and the resources aren’t provided for the Common Core, and policymakers take a page out of the NCLB playbook and merely want to shame teachers with dubious data without actually making a genuine effort to help them improve their craft, then this column is going to have a different tenor a few years from now.
That’s a promise.
But as the old saying goes, “Don’t fall before you are pushed.” We haven’t not risen to new heights yet, so why pre-suppose that we are not capable of doing so?
Common Core, you hold the promise of a new tomorrow—and it’s the time of year when thinking about new tomorrows excites me. [The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the International Reading Association or its Board of Directors.]
Alan Sitomer was named California's 2007 Teacher of the Year. In addition to being an inner-city high school English teacher and former professor in the Graduate School of Education at Loyola Marymount University, Alan is a nationally renowned speaker specializing in engaging reluctant readers who received the 2004 award for Classroom Excellence from the Southern California Teachers of English, the 2003 Teacher of the Year honor from California Literacy, the 2007 Educator of the Year award by Loyola Marymount University and the 2008 Innovative Educator of the Year from The Insight Education Group. He’s the author of six young adult novels, three children's picture books, two teacher methodology books, and a classroom curriculum series for secondary English Language Arts instruction called THE ALAN SITOMER BOOK JAM. A Fun Look at Our Serious Work appears quarterly on the Engage blog.
© 2013 Alan Sitomer. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.