The Common Core: Let’s start a constructive conversation
On November 23, the New York Times published an opinion piece asking if kids were too coddled. Frank Bruni addresses the backlash to the Common Core’s tougher education standards brought on today’s participation-trophy culture. Bruni writes that while the Common Core has its flaws, it “should not be rejected simply because it makes children feel inadequate.”
Before I proceed, it’s important to note that trying to define the Common Core is like trying to hit a moving target. There are so many different angles and perspectives that no one blogger will ever get to them all. However, what I’m hoping to do is highlight points that piqued my interest to start a conversation, and ideally, find ways to better our product and services. After all, CCSS, like Gradeable, is a tool, not a destination. Okay, now, shall we?
Tony Wagner: The problem with the Common Core is high-stakes testing
Tony Wagner’s response to the Bruni’s coddling article speaks to something very important to Gradeable: “The problem with Common Core is not coddled kids; it is high-stakes testing.” Rather than putting all the weight on high-stakes tests, we believe in using low-stakes, formative assessments as a teaching tool in combination with the high-stakes tests. For every four teachers I talk to, three of them invariably mention that they feel like they’re always testing. Testing is important to measure achievement, ability to work under pressure, and to summarize learning. But with the introduction of Common Core and local standardized testing, a lot of pressure has been put on these big tests.
And the pressure is universal: Students are pressured to perform; parents face second-hand anxiety from their children; and often, teachers and administrators depend on good results to keep their jobs. A teacher friend put it well: Either you are praised for good results or highly scrutinized for sub-par results.
Don’t mistake the Common Core as just a test
While I agree with Wagner’s call to dial back emphasis on high-stakes testing, I don’t agree with how he connects only the high-stakes testing with the Common Core. This set of standards is not synonymous with high-stakes testing. Like all standards, they must be measured so there is no need to place devil horns on the testing. “CCSS (and any standards) is more of a curriculum map that all teachers use every day,” our own Kattie explains. “Teachers consistently use standards throughout lessons, formative assessments, summative assessments, then finally the high stakes test.”
If it’s one thing the Common Core shouldn’t be about teaching to the test. The CCSS was designed to teach our students to be original, critical, and social problem solvers, not people who can memorize and learn only what’s on the test. By equating the Common Core to high-stakes testing, Tony Wagner does a huge disservice to a positive movement. There’s more to learning than tests, and educators know that.
So that’s why we advocate for low-stakes, continuous assessment in class in conjunction with these big bad tests. Like I’ve mentioned in the exit ticket posts: Low-stakes assessments are a non-threatening way create a feedback culture so students take ownership of their learning. Formative assessments like exit tickets drive better, more efficient teaching and reteaching. Of course, we still need those finals and big tests. After all, isn’t that when you put all the pieces together? But these “data points” along the way paint a better picture of how, what, and why each student is learning.
So yes, in real life, we are expected to adhere to some set of standards. But while young minds are developing in this Common Core era, we need to reward growth and progress and not just snap-shot results. I think Jack Dorsey, the inventor of Twitter, put it best:
Progress, not perfection.
— Jack Dorsey (@jack) December 2, 2013
What do you think about high stakes standardized testing? Do they hold our education system to a higher standard? Or are they overvalued snap shots of student achievements? If we don’t have standardized tests, is there another alternative to measuring achievement across the board? Do you use low-stakes assessment in your classroom? Do you find it beneficial?