As we get closer to Common Core State Standards implementation in most states, the buzz around education policy blogs and newsletters is becoming edgier. The ESEA waivers and Race to the Top have given states an opportunity to proclaim their grand aspirations. “All students will be proficient in reading and math by 2020!” “We will close all achievement gaps!” These and more like it are indeed noble goals. But we have planned ourselves into la-la land – patting ourselves on the back before the rubber meets the road. That’s about to change.
Next academic year, New York will become the next of the first series of states to administer a statewide standardized test based on the Common Core standards. With the new assessment and higher expectations, scores will drop. Let’s not allow ourselves to think that teachers and students will somehow be able to adopt new standards and master them (teaching them and learning them) in one year. It’s not going to happen. And as long as we know this, expect it, and are prepare to recover, that’s perfectly okay.
Let’s take a look at what happened in Texas and Kentucky when they implemented more rigorous state standards. Texans had a heart attack when the new STAAR assessment results (not aligned to Common Core) were released this year. It looked for a while like the state legislature was going to repeal the new standards. The government had a panic on their hands, which distracted from the end goal of teaching and learning.
In Kentucky, education leaders anticipated, to an extent, that they would see scores drop. They warned people. The public still recoiled when the result came out, but educators and politicians had braced for it. They had their gut check, they rallied, and the focus remained where it should be: on the kids.
Besides, scores would drop in New York even if the new tests were less rigorous. For the five years, teachers have been learning from and teaching to the test, and students have been getting used to the questions, the structure, and what is required of them. A new test takes all of that away, and teachers and students will need to become accustomed to the changes regardless of the level of difficulty. With adjustment will come improvement.
We hope – and assume – that scores will increase because students are learning more as well, but it’s useful to remember that we need to allow our educators and students to find their groove with a new system. The best New York and everyone else can do is anticipate the initial struggle, help our educators and students take it in stride, and let more rigorous standards lead to more learning for students.
Duncan Robb is a second year graduate student at the Johns Hopkins Instiute for Policy Studies. He is a candidate for a Masters in Public Policy.