Common Core or Common Quagmire?

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The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. (Retrieved from http://www.core standards.org)

Recently, I’ve been battling my feelings about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I feel like I have a good understanding of children’s learning styles and the importance of nurturing their young minds. By definition, the CCSS support this notion. So, what’s the problem? It was after a recent baseline math assessment that I really began to feel differently about this new national initiative. On a particular set of questions, points were not given if a student did not use an algorithmic strategy, even if their process derived the correct answer.  I was so annoyed by this and thought, is THIS how we are assessing CCSS? Are we really stifling students autonomous thinking for the sake of what state and national reformers believe is the best indicator of our children’s futures?

We, as educators, all know the intent of the CCSS is to delve deeper into students thinking. To go beyond surface level learning and extend students foundational knowledge. Learning should shift from the traditional, basal instruction curriculum, to one that is more rigorous and relevant in application. We are to provide a variety of strategies for students and encourage individuality in learning and thinking. At least, that’s what I’ve always thought until I began investigating the expectations of the Next Generation Assessments, such as those developed by the Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Careers. These assessments seem to be requiring students to display much more thinking than is seemingly necessary. One particular video stood out to me. Watch as a 3rd grade student proudly explains a math problem using a strategy from the TERC Investigations curriculum for solving an addition problem. She shows two ways to solve the problem, one way by stacking, the traditional standard algorithm using regrouping, and the other by using a written or visual method that is meant to display mathematical thinking. I’ve attached a link below (retrieved from Math Foundations, LLC, September 23, 2014):

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The unintended consequences of the TERC Investigations: http://youtu.be/1YLlX61o8fg

Quite a compelling outcome, wouldn’t you think? She began so confidently, and by the end looked so confused and disappointed as if she were tasked to solve some unearthing mathematical dilemma rather than a simple third grade addition problem. Is this really how we are expected to prepare our students for common core assessment? Or is this type of assessing progressively becoming more of a common quagmire for our students?

Here’s another example from an Arkansas mom who presents her reservations (and speaks for hundreds of other parents in the area as well) over the common core initiative to the Arkansas State Board of Education.

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Arkansas Mother Obliterates Common Core in 4 Minutes: http:// youtu.be/wZEGijN_8R0

Hmmphf! I wonder what that school board member thought after finding that her thinking did not align with the expectations of the CCSS? Why do we continuously subject our students to that which makes little to no sense? Our children think differently, understand differently, LEARN differently, but yet we force them to learn in a way dictated by people that hide behind degrees and acronyms and have more than likely never stepped foot in an urban school classroom! Now, I don’t know that for certain, but what I do know is that fulfilling a personal philanthropic obligation within a chosen urban school district does not make you an educational expert on best practices in instruction and assessment! I’m sorry, but it doesn’t!  As you can tell, it makes me a little frustrated.

Where does Ohio stand? In August 2014, state legislators began the process of eliminating Common Core education standards in Ohio which would mean students would go through their third set of standards over the course of the next four years. Under this new bill, students would keep the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts this year, without the testing that goes with it. Schools would then switch for two years to Massachusetts Common Core standards (adopted in 2010) prior to implementing new state-developed standards in those subjects plus science and social studies starting in the 2017-18 school year (retrieved from The Columbus Dispatch at http://www.dispatch.com on September 26, 2014). Are you kidding me?! The assessment may change again…already?? How is it that the state is unable to make a firm decision about the state assessment and yet our students are expected to perform proficiently on whichever assessment is decided upon? Granted, if educators are effectively teaching to the Common Core, the assessment shouldn’t matter, but the reality is that it does matter because the standards and the assessment are not developmentally sound.

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Honestly! This has gotten to be too much to think about! Are we really providing high-quality academic standards with the common core or are we setting our children up for failure and further holding them back with what seem to have become common quagmires? It’s something to think about, that’s for certain. As I continue to fight my internal battle between being for or against the Common Core initiative, I do what my passion leads me to do and work for those whose voices are never heard within the political realms of our educational reform, my students.

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