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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Common Core Sample: Plumbing the Dark Mysteries of National Standards

I'm cranky. Are you? I've just been a downright Scrooge, though I really don't mean to. And I didn't know why until today. You see, for the last three months I've been aligning and adding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to all of my lesson plans. And, like drinking wine tainted with an undetectable, scentless, tasteless, and usually in powder form, poison, it's been secretly making me ill.

Maybe it's been the recent blogs and articles about the CCSS that opened my eyes or the recent workshop I attended on aligning the CCSS. Not sure. But I do know that I'm not usually cranky, except when I'm hungry.

Raising the Bar

I can feel there's a transformation going on within the kids in my classroom, and I have my suspicions that these standards are playing a not-so-insignificant part. Right now it's only a minor morph, but I feel it. They are growing up, maturing, thinking deeper and wider. In my eyes, they're more like eleven. But they don't know it. ("I'm eight, Mr. P." "No, you're eleven, darnit! Act like it. It's standard now.") CCSS has pushed me to push my students two, three, four levels above their heads. I'm all about pushing, getting the most out of my students. But right now I feel like I'm trying to push a slimy oyster into a slot machine. It's just not going to happen. And the CCSS is telling me that what I'm teaching is standard, middle of the road stuff. Like I said, cranky.

It's this constant tug-of-war between what's standard (Do we really have a standard student? A standard teacher? A standard learner?) and what eight-year-olds can physically and mentally do, what their physiology allows them to create, deduce, interpret and analyze.

Sure, I want my students to excel. I want them to be able to...

LA.3.RI.3.3 - [Grade Level Standard] - Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.

Absolutely! That would be awesome. And I want them to...

LA.3.RL.CCR.8 - [Anchor Standard] - Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Eight-year-olds, dude.

Muddying the Waters

This is all in good intention, but maybe... I've got it! Maybe my pissy mood is rooted in the standards' utter lack of a clue regarding the machinations of the third grade mind. When a third grader delineates an argument, what does it look and sound like? And more importantly -- what will mastery look like?

Man, I don't know. And I can't find a thing about it. If we need to be UBD-ing it, we need to know the end point before we can make a plan to get there. Right? I wouldn't attempt to teach someone how to play the blues like Muddy Waters without making them listen to Muddy first. If the state and government want students to achieve on a higher level, teachers, students and parents probably should know what that level looks like. Right now, the end is muddy.

The standards look good on paper. They go deep on paper. But . . . teachers have been teaching for a long time in a NCLB mind-set -- shallow, watery skills and memorized facts to pass a test at the end of the year. Kind of like a temporary tattoo. On paper, the CCSS embeds deeper ink, but time is needed to turn the ship away from the iceberg. And it's a big ship, my friends. Millions of students need to be rewired. Time, time, time. Time is needed for deconstruction and reconstruction of the student and the teacher. It's probably not a good time to start a new way to evaluate teachers, but so many states are in this accountability frenzy that is doesn't matter. How many teachers will lose their jobs because of students not cutting it with the new standards? That's a bit of a concern, especially when fifty percent of teacher evaluation is based on an assessment directly conceived from the CCSS.

A National Standard

All but five states have adopted the CCSS. This is the closest that the United States has ever been to a countrywide standardization. I've been thinking about this, and I'm not sure if it's good or bad. If the standards live up to the hype, then it's good? When I learned to play tennis, I had to break a few bad habits before I could thoroughly practice for perfection. If I hit a rotten forehand four hundred times it's still a rotten forehand (probably worse). Can't blame my effort. Hopefully the CCSS is not rotten. However, I don't think it matters because we've already jumped off the diving board. I just hope there's water in the pool. But seriously, if something is grand and standardized, is it no longer grand? When I visited the Nancie Atwell Center for Teaching and Learning, I saw all teachers teaching the same way, but it was marvelous and real and I would want my own children to experience such an education. The whole school ran on the same systems and believed in the same philosophy. It worked for them. I guess you can say it was standard, but it is an honest and real education. Thomas Newkirk, in his article The Text Itself brings up a very good point that we should all be aware of as we attempt to teach and live under the shadow of CCSS: "Bad things happen to good ideas when they become mandates."

Will national standards raise the United States out of the muck and grime? Will it save our souls from the nuclear fallout of NCLB? In the words of Butt-head, "Uh, no." It's too grand of a scheme to work, right? It's too vast and open for interpretation. What really matters is what's going on in the classroom day-to-day, hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute. The small stuff, brothers and sisters.

What experiences have you had with the CCSS?

Do you think it will lead to a national curriculum?

What pressures? Stress?

What successes?




Comments (22)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Nancy Sayed's picture

You're not wrong, Gaetan. The common core standards are just the newest scam to hit the market. Before that, REL, etc. had perfectly good standards. The only time the "standards" make a difference is when they have clear and measurable objectives (see Fenwick English and Betty Steffy for their work on curriculum auditing and deep alignment). The Massachusetts people hit the roof when the CC standards replaced their rigorous state curriculum. If you look at the "objectives", you'll see there are too many combinations and permutations to even be viable as variables. It is a con game, designed to grab more money from the Race to the Top candy jar. Fenwick English did his first curriculum audit in 1979, demonstrating without a doubt that the only thing norm-referenced tests measure is a student's socio-economic status, and are thus inherently inequitable and racially and economically biased. All the Acts that followed--A Nation at Risk, Excellence in Education, Goals 2000, NCLB, and now the Race to the Top initiative--have poured billions and trillions into educators' (and their attending parasites) pockets, with no result whatsoever.

Someday, someone is going to wake up and realize that this all deserves one of the biggest lawsuits that has ever been seen in history. People will realize that since 1979, the state and federal governments have been playing with our heads and pocketbooks, and someone will file a massive class action lawsuit that will drain the bank accounts of all those people who are sitting around with their thumbs up their behinds. I hope they end up broke, broke, broke, asking our students whether or not they want to supersize their cheeseburgers with that order.

James Dittes's picture
James Dittes
English teacher from Gallatin, Tennessee

I had the same feeling when I looked at the standards for my 11th-grade English students. It's almost like dyslexia, the way all those numbers and periods an beaurocratese tend to jumble together.

This is the second years that I've been working at implementing CCS, and it has become much easier. Like the private school teachers in Mr. Hauck's example, I teach the lessons I love to teach, but the CCS helps me tweak them to meet the standards and ensure a top-quality, relevant education for the kids, who may not be as fond of, say, Moby Dick, as I am.

Kimberly Whybrew's picture

I completely agree! I keep looking at standards like the ones you note and I can't come up with a single lesson. My students are in 3rd grade and live in a poor rural environment. I'm still working on prior knowledge. I tried to come up with a topic they could debate and/or support a position on, but it isn't easy. They aren't real up on domestic affairs, world history, US history, etc. The best I could do was more recess or different lunches. Okay, I may be exaggerating a little- I did come up with a few other ideas, but my point is that when do we teach foundational skills like comprehension, fluency, math facts, etc and get all of this higher level thinking in at that age. Let me give them the foundation so that when they get to middle school and up, they can do those higher thinking assignments instead of the teacher having to remediate most of the time. By foundation, I don't mean low level thinking-I want to push my students to think, but let's be realistic.

Nancy Sayed's picture

A friend said: Something just hit me as I read your response, Nancy Merrill Sayed. Is the link between test results and socio-economic status the chicken or the egg? I answered:

That's a really good question. But at this point, I'd say that SES came second. My reasoning? Before the Industrial Revolution, more people had a solid place in society. People of all walks of life were respected if they did their jobs well and had a solid moral code. After that (at least according to John Taylor Gatto, in his Underground History of American Education), schools were used to divide the movers and shakers from the factory workers and consumers. The upper six or seven percent (industrial titans, then the professionals such as doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc.) were effectively in the lead from the beginning. The rest were trained to be good factory employees (be punctual, sit down, shut up, don't question authority, do repetitive meaningless tasks, etc.) and unquestioning consumers of the masses of goods made in the factories. We have effectively been funneled through chutes in a slaughter house, and never really asked why. Many people didn't want to be CEOs, and were content to put in their forty years and get a good retirement package. So, what better way than to design the chute through which we'd be funneled, to make people believe that only the "top" students were to be rewarded with plum additional education and primo jobs, than by making people believe that the means by which we assessed students was just the fairest of them all?

In truth, norm-referenced tests, which we are still using in the state of Missouri (the MAP and other end-of-course tests) may be CALLED criterion-referenced, but they are also norm-referenced. This is not only very bad educational practice, but is prejudicial, since it then makes it impossible to tell with any kind of clarity and measurability, just exactly what is being tested. That is the point of it. In other words, a norm-referenced test may not in any way, shape or form, be used to diagnose or measure student achievement. It is strictly against the law, and is punishable practically with death. Never mind that zillions of the tests are passed out each year, in every school. Never mind if teachers and schools copy those tests and either a) use them to teach the test, or b) marginally better, use them as a backbone of the curriculum and teach TO the test. I taught for thirty-five years, and I am very certain, that most if not all schools do this, from private to public. Children of a certain SES and/or upbringing (i.e. they've been taught to read by being bathed in language since they were born, cuddled and read to, with letters, words being pointed out, etc.) could stay home and watch cartoons all day, then take the test at the end of the year and do well on it, up and until they reach the limits of their parents' knowledge. Children learn what they see.

The educational systems then hijack the parents' SES and upbringing, as if THEY were the ones who did it, bragging about how well their schools do. The only way to obviate the SES factor is to do a thorough curriculum audit and deep alignment (Fifty Ways to Close the Achievement Gap, by Drs. Fenwick English and Betty Steffy); they show exactly what is needed, which is to spell out the educational objectives with crystal clarity, being fully measurable. For example, rather than say that a student will know how to add, we need to be specific in the variables: students will know how to add three-digit plus three-digit numbers with regrouping, in vertical format (and this is being very simple--it can and does get quite complex, but is very doable, and much better than pretending we've done something--and receiving money for it--and not actually doing it). When we test the one, saying they either do or do not know how to add, well, fine for the ones who do know; but then what with the ones who don't? If we're going to test it, we need to respect students enough to show them exactly where their knowledge is breaking down. And not to say that this is the be all and end all. It is surprisingly easy to teach and test the "basics". Higher level thinking skills are not magic, and just as easily taught. As a matter of fact, most kids couuld probably teach themselves (AND us) in this online age.

We know intuitively, as teachers and students, that something is wrong with the kind of assessment we're being asked to do, but don't know how to pinpoint where the "wrongness" lies. I'd say that it lies in a) in the "standards" we're being asked to assess too many variables (bad science, if this is indeed scientific, this kind of assessment) and
I could go on and on, and frequently do, but I think that makes my point.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

Please explain why this is is a problem for your school to match their cognitive level to the proper grade level standard. I am assuming that your district has testing data on each of your students, so in LA and math, you create groups based equivalent grade level. If they are at least two grade levels below chronological age, they should have been tested already for possible learning disabilities.

Kimberly Whybrew's picture

Because they aren't 2 years behind. They are 8 and 9. We are just trying to suddenly teach them things that they were learning when they were 10 and 11. Plus, in Indiana students who are slow learners get no IEP nor are they exempted from any AYP standards. They are targeted the same as any other student. I differentiate everything in my room. I have a total of about 40 minutes of whole group instruction a day, but they still have to learn the 3rd grade standards or fail the test. Now we are moving to the common core standards that are much harder than we have now. My students with IEP's and who are slow learners are pretty much being left completely behind now because they will never get a highschool diploma. Grade school curriculum is highschool prep and highschool curriculum is college prep. There is nothing in between that and no diploma. My son has an IQ of 84 and is dyslexic. He is in 7th grade and it has been suggested to me three times this year to put him on a non-diploma track. How many of your life skills students come to you with those credentials?

Kimberly Whybrew's picture

I completely agree! I keep looking at standards like the ones you note and I can't come up with a single lesson. My students are in 3rd grade and live in a poor rural environment. I'm still working on prior knowledge. I tried to come up with a topic they could debate and/or support a position on, but it isn't easy. They aren't real up on domestic affairs, world history, US history, etc. The best I could do was more recess or different lunches. Okay, I may be exaggerating a little- I did come up with a few other ideas, but my point is that when do we teach foundational skills like comprehension, fluency, math facts, etc and get all of this higher level thinking in at that age. Let me give them the foundation so that when they get to middle school and up, they can do those higher thinking assignments instead of the teacher having to remediate most of the time. By foundation, I don't mean low level thinking-I want to push my students to think, but let's be realistic.

Nancy Sayed's picture

M.A., for someone as supposedly adept at evaluation as you, you sure don't understand what the other writer is saying: that the children are eight and nine years BEHIND. As for Pennsylvania, they were and are a leader in many educational initiatives, but no need to denigrate other people, is there?

One writer said:

..during the last round of standards alignment, I saw twenty teachers take twenty different approaches and come up with twenty different ways to make their curriculum "meet" the standards. Some would bend the meaning and intent of the standards, simply to continue teaching the same material, or to show that they indeed have "covered" all of the standards.

We need networks of educators discussing the outward reflections you seek for each and every standard...

Great point. This is the problem of an unaligned curriculum/instruction/assessment. It's easier than hell to write curriculum. The hard part is to do the "outward reflections" or the assessment portion. This is the part that no one likes to do, because when we do that, the magic is over for those mainly interested in a dog and pony show. The supposed "educators" can't hold the cards close to their chests, using them to hold over the students. If people knew what the final assessment looked like, they wouldn't much need teachers or school anymore. A friend and I wrote a bill not long ago, which the head of curriculum and assessment for our state said the state "absolutely" must do--not because of any favors to the students, but because state and federal laws require it; education has been allowed to get away with skullduggery like Gaetan writes about above for too long now, and the unease it is now causing may demonstrate pretty clearly that those days are coming to an end. The bill went like this:

SECOND REGULAR SESSION

House Concurrent Resolution No. 13

95TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY

INTRODUCED BY REPRESENTATIVE ERVIN.

4052L.01I

Whereas, students and their parents have the right and the responsibility to have a valid measure of students' academic progress based on actual achievement rather than socio-economic status or other nonacademic variables; and

Whereas, criterion-referenced testing is the most commonly accepted means by which true academic diagnoses, progress, and merit might be attained through "clear" and "measurable" standards, objectives, and assessment items; and

Whereas, our state has developed criterion-referenced testing and curriculum frameworks, along with grade-level expectations, and has begun to align high school exit with college entrance requirements, but has not performed a thorough statewide curriculum audit and alignment:

Now, therefore, be it resolved that the members of the House of Representatives of the Ninety-fifth General Assembly, Second Regular Session, the Senate concurring therein, hereby resolve:

(1) That a curriculum audit be conducted for the state of Missouri. An external audit would be preferable, but an internal audit would be acceptable, provided that the personnel involved be trained by professionals. In either case, the audit should be performed or overseen by a company which has conducted at least thirty audits in the past three years;

(2) That, upon completion of the curriculum audit, the state develop a scope-and-sequence of all tested skills, and the skills which would fall between them, which is "clear" and "measurable", and which is fully available to all students, parents, teachers, and any other member of the public who would request it, and that it be published in the form of parallel test items, as well as a description, both "clear" and "measurable" of their content and format;

(3) In order for every student in the state to benefit from the curriculum audit, the state must conduct a deep alignment at the state level, using the "clear" and "measurable" standards, objectives, and assessment items, then develop a user-friendly model curriculum, instruction, and assessment guide to be used or not, according to the preference of the district; and

Be it further resolved that the Chief Clerk of the Missouri House of Representatives be instructed to prepare properly inscribed copies of this resolution for the Missouri State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills101/biltxt/intro/HCR0013I.htm

The emphasis in this was that the information be published in the form of parallel or mirror test items (or as the other writer said, the outward reflections of the standards), showing exactly what the assessment would look like. Unfortunately, we got a new commissioner who is not as enthusiastic about doing her job as I would like, so we're still working on it. The days of traditional education are limited. I believe that all of this standards stuff is the last gasp of the dinosaur. Except for baby-sitting purposes, schools no longer do anything that parents and communities can't do for themselves. As a matter of fact, people could just start with the ACT or SAT and work backwards. Heck, with PLATO and other software, kids could just jump on the game and be ready to leave school when they're fifteen, sixteen and go straight to college (like my daughter did).

Kimberly Whybrew's picture

My point was that we are trying to teach the same things to 8 and 9 year olds that we used to teach to 10 and 11 year olds or even beyond that.

We do have a vocational track, however they still have to pass many classes beyond vocational. The advent of the core standards seems to be causing a push down of standards rather than a deeper learning/thinking into what was already being taught. I'm not kidding when I tell you that my 7th grader is doing physics that my husband learned in college. My husband is a licensed civil engineer. Why does my 7th grader need this. I'm disturbed that there is confusion between higher level thinking and just learning things sooner. How many careers require their employees to know all forms of energy transfer, etc.? These are things that we used to take when we started thinking about a major. In highschool we could take classes that would prepare us to go to college with a certain major in mind. I did not take physics because I knew my major would not need it. Now we are starting those standards in 7th grade and lower. This is giving slow learners and MI students very little options. My son is struggling now-what will happen in highschool?

I never intended to make a comment that implied anyone "just gets an IEP". Every state is accountable to NCLB. NCLB makes it very clear that all students who are MI and above are to pass the same standards. This leaves very little room for differentiaton. I can and do differentiate in my classroom all the time and I know my students will show growth. However, many are not going to be able to keep pace with the new curriculums being introduced to meet the common core standards. Their needs are not being met. Our high average to high students will be fine. Our life skills students will be fine. Our low average to borderline students will not make it without some changes. For example, please design a curriculum with four years of math for those students. Four years will now be required to get a diploma. Maybe if they count taking Algebra II twice, my son might get to graduate. There is no room for non-college bound students anymore.

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