How legislatures, parents are responding to Common Core

youngstown Ohio common core; expanded the testing window for PARCC exams in light of the severe weather and school closings.

(MEDIA GENERAL) – The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been a controversial topic from the start. Now that exams are being administered, parents and legislatures are making strides to amend the program’s rigorous guidelines and lessen the federal role in education policy.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the CCSS, the Core Standards website provides an outline of what the program entails:

  • The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and language arts for students in kindergarten through 12th grade
  • The standards emphasize analytical and critical thinking skills to increase fluency in comprehension and understanding.
  • Learning objectives outline what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade by incorporating consistent, real-world learning goals
  • The standards are designed to prepare students for 21stcentury jobs, college and a competitive global economy.

While the federal government played no role in the development of the standards, it has in fact provided funding to schools that have elected to adopt the new curriculum.

The development process began in 2009; however, most states have only fully implemented the new curriculum in the last one to two years. The results from the test administered this school year are in the process of being released to the public.

Expectations and Test Results

The CCSS test results are in (in some states) and many are not surprised that the scores showed students found the exams more challenging than the old state tests.

In Washington, state officials said that fewer students scored proficient on the new exams than on the tests based on the state’s old education standards.

Just over half of the children tested in grades three through eight (in the state of Washington) met the standard on the new English language arts tests this year. Just under half of the state’s elementary students met the standard in math.

High school students did better than elementary students on the English test, with 62 percent making the grade. They did much worse on the math test, however, with only 29 percent meeting the standard.

Other states found themselves in similar scenarios with low percentages of students meeting the new standards, resulting in further confusion and frustration for parents and students alike.

Opting-Out of Testing

In response to the dissatisfaction with the Common Core standards, some parents have chosen to rebel by opting their children out of the state tests.

The opt-out movement has become more than just common, in some states it has turned into a revolution, most notably in New York.

According to one column in The Washington Post, “The pushback against the Common Core exams caught fans of high-stakes testing off guard, with estimates of New York test refusals now exceeding 200,000.”

The opt-out movement has expanded its reach to include Colorado, New Jersey, and California.

Washington is among the group of states that have experienced considerably less resistance to Common Core testing.

More than 95 percent of children in grades 3 through 8 participated in Washington’s new statewide tests this spring. Though, high school participation was considerably lower, at just under 50 percent statewide.

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said he was proud of the students who tried the new tests and expressed hope that more high school students would participate next year.

The Devil’s in the Details

What distinguishes the CCSS from old state standards is that it does not include any standardized tests. Students are expected to rely on critical thinking and analytical skills to answer the new exam questions rather than depending on memorization or guessing on multiple choice questions.

The new exams are administered online, but schools without the proper technology are given the option of taking the exams off-site where computers are available or they may choose to use paper tests.

The Common Core exams that debuted widely this year were developed and administered by several different groups, including the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

While each state can choose which test to give, they are alike in emphasizing context and fluency of knowledge.

Some have criticized the new test questions for being inappropriate for the age level of students taking the exams. The ways of teaching and learning math have received particularly harsh criticism.

Even celebrities have experienced the frustration and criticized the new exams.

Louis C.K. wrote on Twitter, “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!” (@louisck) https://twitter.com/changethestakes/status/460894342584877057

The Cost of High-Quality Standards

Implementation of a new national standard in education undoubtedly comes with a cost, and Common Core certainly will continue to cost tax payers for several years.

The standards’ website is upfront about the costs associated with implementation, adding that “states already spend significant amounts of money on professional development, curriculum materials, and assessments.”

However, overwhelming figures seem to have taken states by surprise and have caused several states to reconsider their participation in the new program.

Much of the cost is due to new, Common Core-aligned textbooks and curriculum, but other expenses include teacher training, technology upgrades, and testing and assessment.

Common Core’s website justifies these expenses by adding that the new standards provide states with opportunities to save considerable resources by using technology, open-source material, and taking advantage of cross-state opportunities that come from sharing consistent standards.

While none of the 45 states participating in Common Core have completely backed out, measures have been introduced in 19 legislatures to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Beginning of Program Amendments

In July 2015, the United States House and Senate began negotiating to merge two different bills that would rewrite the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law and Common Core has been a source of agreement between the chambers.

The NCLB law expired in 2007, and Congress has yet to come to an agreement of how to rework it. Its mandates have remained in place, despite the law’s expiration. The Obama administration has issued some waivers to dozens of states to get around some of the law’s strictest requirements.

Both the House and Senate bills agree when it comes to Common Core. The bills say the Education Department may not mandate or give states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, such as Common Core.

But, the bills differ in many other areas. So, much more work must be done to reach a compromise.

The Silver Lining

While many parents, teachers and students have felt discouraged by the CCSS, others have defended the new program and are optimistic about its future.

Paul Reville, a professor and policy analyst at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, told U.S. News & World Report in a 2014 interview, “The curriculum is a gain for our students because they will be prepared. It’s a gain for states in that they’re preparing a workforce, and it’s a gain for our overall [national] prosperity.”

The curriculum, Reville says, is simply “common-sense logic” anchored on “the kinds of skills and knowledge necessary for young people to have in order to participate meaningfully in the 21st century economy.”

Kevin Teeley, President of the Lake Washington Education Association, explained to NBC in an interview the CCSS will improve on its own; the program just needs more time to allow curriculum and teacher training to catch up.

“I think the idea of the Common Core standards is fine, […]. I think it will get better just naturally,” Teeley said.

Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky shares Teeley’s outlook on the Common Core program.

“Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core standards,” Gov. Steve Beshear, told The Blaze in February 2014. “We’re excited about it. We’re implementing it. We are already noticing a very positive effect of implementing those standards. So we’re going to be charging ahead.”

-The Associated Press contributed to this story

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