Common Core Controversy – What does it Really Mean to Texas?

ccss2_360_363What is Common Core?
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are designed to provide a clear goal of shared learning standards for students in grades K-12. The standards were written by educators and various education advocacy groups with the goal to create a set of distinct standards that “promote equity by ensuring all students, no matter where they live, are well prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad” (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010).

Many educators and public officials agree in theory that having consistent standards across the nation is a positive step towards equity in education and enhances the U.S position in global competition.  The concept is simple:  a first grade student in Colorado will be held to the exact same learning standard as a first grade student in Maine. If a first grade student is expected to know that 2+2=4 by first grade, the standard would be consistent for all students regardless of their geographic location.

History of Common Core
In 2009 the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers set out to develop national standards to “establish consistent education standards across the states as well as ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.”

With this goal in mind, the coalition, which included educators from across the country and was led with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pearson Publishing, and other organizations, developed and released state standards for English Language Arts and Math.  (Standards for science are currently being developed by another organization and are not tied to CCSS. Social Studies standards have not been written under the CCSS Initiative.)

The standards were benchmarked with international data related to college and career readiness to ensure that American students are held to high expectations for college and career readiness to ensure a competitive position on a global level.

States were then able to adopt the standards through their state education agencies. Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, and three U.S. Territories adopted the standards.  Texas, Virginia, Minnesota*, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Nebraska chose to adopt or keep their own state standards (Minnesota adopted ELA standards, but not mathematics at its state standards for math were considered higher).

What’s wrong with Common Core?
For all of its admirable theoretical intent, the roll-out of CCSS has been shaky at best. Keep in mind, CCSS is only the standards to which the states are to educate students. Each state still has autonomy and authority to create their own curriculum to teach the common standards, train their teachers on CCSS, and fund and implement related testing.

As CCSS has rolled out, the pace, training, and materials for the standards have been inconsistent among the states. National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel said that some states had “completely botched” implementation of the Common Core standards, “Seven of ten teachers believe that implementation of the standards is going poorly in their schools,” he wrote in a letter to members.

For many states, old education standards were immediately eliminated in favor of CCSS without proper implementation or training for teachers.  Some educators have asked for more time to plan and practice good lessons, receive high-quality training, and observe and collaborate with colleagues. There have also been requests for more financial resources to make sure classrooms are equipped with the required technology and that students have access to updated Common Core-aligned textbooks.

Some critics have further cited that the standards are unrealistic for certain grade levels. Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush cautioned “the standards have never been field-tested and that no one knows whether they will improve education.”

Testing Controversies
However, the most significant discrepancy related to CCSS has been how states will test the standards. States who accepted Race to the Top funding are required to measure results with standardized testing. In 2014, many states are pilot-testing their assessments.

Two testing consortiums were created by the Department of Education, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Both consortiums focused on creating computer-based assessments with a promise to give educators and students information. CCSS-adopting states were able to join either consortium to develop pilot assessments designed for CCSS.  Many states opted for this federal assistance to defray the cost of developing their own assessments.

Despite the comprehensive nature of the new tests and the promised ability to analyze a student’s ability to think and measure student growth, there has been significant concern about testing from several states. The new tests are given over time instead of administered in a single day.  Some states have reported struggles with accommodating the necessary technology to give the exams, while teachers and parents have shared frustrations with dedicating too much teaching time to a “one-size-fits all” exam. In addition, the cost of the exams averages between $22.50 to $29.50 per student.

The first pilot tests for CCSS are expected to rollout next month. However, some states, including Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Utah, have chosen to pull out of their respective testing consortiums in favor of creating their own tests or using another state created assessment.

With many grassroots efforts nationwide to alleviate over-reliance on testing, the emphasis on testing associated with CCSS has led to additional controversy. Further, several states including New York and Maryland have chosen to tie state teacher evaluations to CCSS testing leading to complaints from educator groups and parents alike. Because of these controversies, some states have issued delays in the evaluations until the CCSS are fully implemented or have offered waivers to school districts that were slow to rollout the standards.

What about Texas?
Texas was one of only five states that did not choose to adopt CCSS. Instead, Texas chose to retain its Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards. While there will naturally be some similar elements and cross-over between TEKS and Common Core standards, according to a recent report by Education Week, TEKS meet or exceed CCSS in the areas of mathematics and English language arts. To further demonstrate their independence from CCSS, HB 462 made use of Common Core related materials or developing assessments based on Common Core illegal beginning in 2014.

But being one of the few national standard outliers will present unique challenges to Texas. Previously Texas had been a powerful player in the textbook industry due to the size of the state and the state’s financial guarantee to purchase textbooks for all students. However, with 45 states now under a common standards umbrella, the educational publishing industry may lack the incentive to readily develop materials targeted to Texas as they have in the past. This will likely lead to the appearance of materials and texts now marketed to Common Core states in Texas, particularly for less profitable adoptions and supplemental materials.

A further and important complication for Texas is the College Board’s alignment of Advanced Placement (AP) math and English courses, SAT, and ACT to Common Core Standards. Does this mean that teachers across the state of Texas potentially violate HB 462 when preparing their students for their AP exams? Does this mean that school districts are in violation of HB 462 every time they allow the PSAT, SAT, or ACT to be administered to their students? Or would Texas prefer to declare full independence from these Common Core-aligned examinations, leaving its students at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to their counterparts across the nation? Even with its rejection of Common Core, the complications the standards have created remain, even in Texas.

Despite the various controversies that surround the Common Core State Standards, it is clear the standards are poised to have a significant impact on K-12 learning.  With backing from the Department of Education, high-level testing and education companies, philanthropic organizations, the textbook industry, College Board, and a variety of government agencies, CCSS will have a place in the 21st century classroom for years to come. It is yet to be seen whether that will be a positive impact or not.  But the question remains, when the dust settles: where will Texas be?

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