Previous Common Core State Standards (CCSS) blogs examined the changes, promises, and possibilities of the CCSS. The last piece concluded with questions about the research and evidence for their implementation. These included the following:
• What is the research behind the claims that the CCSS will improve student learning?
The CCSS have consumed the focus of schools across the nation, especially since they are linked to a new testing and accountability system. States and local school districts have and will continue to pour time and resources into the programs, products, services, and testing tools to be “Common Core Ready”. So how do we know that these new learning standards will improve student learning?
The Common Core Mission Statement describes the standards as being “robust and relevant” and a way to prepare our students to compete in the global economy. The vendors who designed the CCSS claim that they are “internationally benchmarked” or that they have been designed in comparison to the learning expectations of academic standards of school systems abroad.
Yet, educational researchers have raised concerns that the CCSS have not been scientifically tested or piloted before being used to create high-stakes assessments. The research behind the CCSS, in fact, does not provide evidence that these new standards, or any learning standards for that matter, will improve student learning while the rationale for the CCSS is based on U.S. student performance on international tests.
It is, however, ironic that the nations cited as exemplars, including Canada, Singapore, and Finland, have rejected the use of testing for accountability. According to Pasi Sahlberg, the Minister of Education for Finland, in his country, they prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test. He writes:
“The irony of Finnish educational success is that it derives heavily from classroom innovation and school improvement research in the United States. Cooperative learning and portfolio assessment are examples of American classroom-based innovations that have been implemented in large scale in the Finnish school system.”
In addition Finland has invested 30 times the amount of money on professional development than the U.S. currently spends on testing. In China, the former premier, Wen Jiabo, puzzled over his country’s lack of innovation, raised concerns with China’s educational leaders about an overemphasis on testing declaring that the nation needed to cultivate the same kind of innovation that is prevalent in the United States. Such innovation is exemplified in the following ways:
o The United States consistently leads the world in utility patents – or patents for innovation;
o The U.S. has placed 2nd out of 142 nations on the G.C.I. – Global Competitiveness Index – over the past 17 years;
o The U.S. leads the world in GDP – a measure of economic strength – 3X that of China and 5X that of Germany.
These statistics have been consistent for decades while U.S. schools have done poorly on international comparisons, since they began using such benchmarks in the 1950’s. Perhaps the U.S. students experienced a comprehensive and varied curriculum, albeit not a perfect fit for every student, while other countries prematurely sorted and selected students to provide a narrowed curriculum that ensured good test results. It is somewhat ironic that at a time when the United States is calling for a need to be globally competitive and need to maintain our innovation, we seem to be taking a path that is being abandoned by other nations.
• Will simply “raising the bar” through differently designed and more difficult tests get students to “jump higher”?
Most educators welcome rigorous curriculum and challenging learning activities for their students but through lessons and units of study that consider the extent to which students are ready for higher levels of learning and vary according to such readiness.
Many elementary teachers are concerned that the CCSS do not consider cognitive development – that natural human growth cannot be accelerated. Just as individuals physically grow at different rates beyond their control – some walk later than others; some gain weight and height faster than others – cognitive maturation cannot be rushed. Requiring students to jump higher or think abstractly is futile as they cannot respond until they are ready. Yet, in the most effective classrooms, while the expectations should be set high for all, teachers know that there varying levels of readiness, especially in the earlier years of learning.
• What have been the outcomes of previous improvements or changes in state standards? What is the evidence for their success?
Without field-testing and a collection of student data over time, it is impossible to make the determination that the new Common Core Standards and the “cut-points” on the associated high-stakes assessments are properly gauged. The initial set of metrics is arbitrary yet will define students and teachers as underperforming – but in comparison to whom or to what standards?
After thirty years of standards-based learning and testing, there is no research to show that the use of standards have improved student learning. A ten year study on high stakes standardized testing conducted by the National Academies Research Council found that there is “little or no effect on students learning and are counterproductive.” According to the Center for Education Policy, five years after the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, 60% of districts reported increased instructional time for math and ELA with a 44% decrease in all other subjects.
In many schools curriculum has been narrowed to accommodate such an emphasis but at a cost of the loss of diverse and potentially life-altering learning opportunities for many students. While the shift to a more standards-based approach to teaching was part of an effort to close the achievement gap between poor and minority learners, this gap has actually widened.
Many educators have acknowledged that the skills and thinking abilities that the vendors and advocates of the CCSS have promised are worthy objectives but question whether or not the CCSS, as they are currently being rolled out, represent the answer. CCSS are untested and unfunded, making the work to incorporate them into classrooms both controversial and difficult. They are tied to high-stakes assessments for students and staff while being rushed into implementation.
A significant financial and political investment, the CCSS will be here for awhile, at least until the next reform. It is important that here in SOCSD we ensure that implementation occurs with an understanding of how student learning can be rich without allowing our concern about student and teacher assessment distort the purpose of an education for a better life and society, not a higher test score.