By Sue Moore
Children have returned to school this week. Who knows what the expectations are for their child to learn during the course of this school year? Have you heard of the term “Common Core”? Not many have, only those directly connected with K-12 education in Michigan and possibly the legislature are conversant with the term.
Common Core is the education model and assessments that are set to be implemented by the state governments in the spring of 2015, according to Dave Campbell, the newly minted superintendent of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA).
Strictly speaking, it is a set of standards that every child in Michigan and the U.S. should be capable of knowing, as set by the U.S. Department of Education. Each state was asked to implement the yardsticks by spring of 2015. To date, 45 states have accepted the funding carrot held out by agreeing to institute the standards and devise tests to measure them.
Michigan is one of the exceptions although the Department of Education adopted a new teacher evaluation system and new student growth assessments months ago, albeit a year and a half late.
The legislature is still debating the merits of the standards. Oct. 1, 2013 is the deadline to decide, thus leaving school districts in a quandary. The Legislature has refused to allow the implementation by declining funding to develop the corresponding testing apparatus to determine if the student and school have made the requisite steps forward.
“It’s all about the local control mantra,” says Charlie Glaes, Vicksburg’s superintendent of schools. “We don’t even have the fiction of local control anymore,” he continues.
“Michigan never adopted a state mandated curriculum, they just built the MEAP test to embarrass the heck out of you! It’s a mess and often misused.”
“The legislature is distrustful of public schools. Recently they have done more micro-managing yet they are saying they want local control. The real push is to replace local control with “vendor control” but it is being portrayed as Federal control. The publishing companies and vendors running Charter schools with “online academies” are also involved in this stalemate,” Glaes points out.
The MEAP is administered in the fall when students have had the summer off. It is supposed to test their advancement in the previous year but that lapsed time doesn’t give them much chance to get up to speed, Glaes contends, so it’s difficult to show growth from September through May.
“Testing is very important to be designed and built for quality assessments. It is costly and time consuming, but with this delay in funding, we don’t know when or how a test will be forthcoming. Still, we are moving forward toward implementation,” he says.
“Common Core’s premise is a more standardized and higher level set of learning expectations across the nation. It is clear as to what needs to be taught at each level and makes clearer to teachers the content and expectations that are more rigorous than in the past.
We can’t afford to wait and see, he says. Parents may notice that the bar is being raised in Vicksburg. Students are being challenged to think and apply at a higher level in every grade.
The Common Core will challenge a child’s thinking skills and ask them to apply what they are learning to the real world amid the need to raise their achievement levels upon graduation. The tests are computer based with immediate feedback to give a base level of what the student knows. It is called adaptive testing and was developed in Oregon. “Our kids are competing with young people throughout the world now days. This requires a strong set of curriculum and expectations,” cites John O’Toole, K-12 science/math assessment coordinator for Vicksburg.
“We focus on what they need to know to be successful,” Glaes adds. “It’s very important to challenge schools to do a better job. The Common Core is clearer, more rigorous and more focused. A national panel of higher education, secondary and elementary experts worked to develop these and kept schools informed through KRESA. We were allowed input on drafts and changes were made, based upon input from local schools.
Parents involvement is critical, Glaes implores. We need them to be closely attuned to what their kids are doing in school and letting us know if they have concerns. It’s important that they understand the difference in Common Core as an ongoing process. We are not trying to hide this in a box and all of a sudden spring it on them when school starts,” he says.