Common core standards: “A fundamental shift in the education marketplace”

The recently-completed common core state standards (CCSS) define what K-12 students need to know in order to be prepared for college and career. The process is being completed with work on related assessments.

“This is a fundamental shift in the education marketplace,” writes Pascal D. Forgione, the executive director of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), in an introductory letter to a guide to the new assessments, a collection of essays on the ongoing efforts to develop these new tests.

Marketplace is the definitely the key word for test publishers.

Common core state standards (CCSS) have already been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. According to Mr. Forgione, this means that “more than 80 percent of our nation’s public school students and teachers will be focused on the same content standards for their students.”

Some of what the guide says about the CCSS sounds good. About the new mathematics standards — “Because sufficient time is allocated and important ideas are developed over many years, there will be less need to teachers to repeat the same content year after year” (p. 3). The new English language arts standards will “discard the five-paragraph straightjacket” (p. 4).

You’ll have to check out the CCSS web site and read the guide to the assessments yourself to decide whether you believe common national standards can improve public education in the US, and only time will tell if they do. Either way, most of us are stuck with them.

But, red flags definitely begin to wave as the talk turns to standardized national assessments to support the CCSS.

For example, “The introductions to grades K – 8 identify two to four critical areas for each grade level, setting priorities for teachers, professional developers, and assessment writers…Faithful assessments will focus most of their time on these critical areas…” (p. 4).

In the past, PURE has raised concerns about the way Illinois identified certain of its state standards as “suitable for testing,” and developed a state assessment framework around those items. They urged districts not to use that framework as the curriculum, but really – teaching to the test was never made so easy. (See this fact sheet, “What’s testable?“)

What the Guide suggests to me is that there are far more questions than answers about the new national assessments. Will they be the “better tests” that President Obama and Fed Ed Head Arne Duncan say we need, and suggest that we’ll get? More on that here.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.