By Steven E. Gomes, Ed.D.County Superintendent of Schools
I am not sure when the Common Core State Standards became a political football. For some time, the educational system has been criticized for using a curriculum that requires teachers to be on pacing guides and in lockstep with their peers and the use of multiple-choice tests to assess students. The private sector and higher education have been telling K-12 educators that students lack the critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills required to perform in our technological society and workplace. The CCSS and Smart assessment is addressing those criticisms, though, some would suggest otherwise. I have compiled some common myths and the facts addressing those myths below:
Myth: Adopting common standards will bring all states' standards down to the lowest common denominator, which means states with high standards, such as California, will be taking a step backwards if they adopt the CCSS.
Fact: The Standards are designed to build upon the most advanced current thinking about preparing all students for success in college and their careers. This will result in moving even the best state standards to the next level. In fact, since this work began, there has been an explicit agreement that no state would lower its standards. The CCSS were informed by the best in the country, the highest international standards, and evidence and expertise about educational outcomes. We need college and career ready standards because even in high‐performing states, students are graduating and passing all the required tests and still require remediation in their postsecondary work.
Myth: The CCSS are not matched or benchmarked to international standards.
Fact: International benchmarking played a significant role in both sets of standards. In fact, the college and career ready standards include an appendix listing the evidence that was consulted in drafting the standards.
Myth: The CCSS is "dumbing down" the curriculum and will not teach the classics in literature and will remove the algebra requirement from 8th grade.
Fact: The opposite is true. CCSS promotes higher level thinking skills to improve critical thinking, communication and collaborations skills.
In English‐language arts, CCSS require certain critical content for all students, including: classic myths and stories from around the world, America's founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare. Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are left to state and local determination. In addition to content coverage, the standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking and listening.
In mathematics, the CCSS lay a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student's ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically. The CCSS set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness, not by piling topic upon topic, but by demanding that students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply mathematics to novel situations, as college students and employees regularly do.
CCSS do accommodate and prepare students for Algebra 1 in 8th grade, by including the prerequisites for this course in grades K‐7. Students who master the K‐7 material will be able to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade. At the same time, grade 8 standards are also included; these include rigorous algebra and will transition students effectively into a full Algebra 1 course.
Myth: CCSS is an attempt by the federal government to control what is taught in classrooms and to establish a national curriculum.
Fact: The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state‐led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind and adoption of the Standards is in no way mandatory. States began the work to create clear, consistent standards before the Recovery Act or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act blueprint was released because this work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government. The U.S. military and National Education Association endorse the standards.
CCSS are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.
I believe the CCSSs give school boards, administration and teachers the flexibility to find innovative ways to address the standards so that students — once they learn the basics — will develop the critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills necessary in a technological, global economy and society. It will certainly be transformational when implemented fully.
MERCED COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION
632 West 13th Street
Merced, CA 95341