As states begin implementing the Common Core State Standards, questions about testing and student assessment have, understandably, begun to come up. Common Core’s implementation has given rise to a new approach to assessing student knowledge and academic achievement that drastically changes conventional testing methods.
Since 1981, National PTA has supported nationally agreed-upon voluntary educational standards if they are derived by consensus at the state and local levels. Educational standards are defined as “generally agreed upon criteria which outline what students are expected to learn and to know at various developmental stages.” National PTA firmly believes that families must be involved in the process of developing these criteria, and must remain engaged throughout the implementation and assessment stages of the standards as well.
Recently, many PTA’s across the country have struggled to correct misinformation about what Common Core actually is, as well as what the new standards’ assessments mean for students. In order to address this completely, a review of what the standards are and why they were developed is important:
What are the Common Core Standards?
The Common Core Standards were developed through a state-led initiative. Spearheaded by governors and school superintendents, educational leaders from various states worked in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, college faculty, parents, and education experts to develop a common set of educational standards that would standardize basic educational knowledge across the country. The standards build on the existing foundations across all states, and have been internationally benchmarked to ensure rigor on par with top-performing nations. To date, more than 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core.
The standards are not a curriculum. Decisions about curriculum, tools, materials, and textbooks are left to local districts and schools that know their students best.
Why were Common Core Standards developed?
The standards were designed to enhance and improve student learning by providing young people with the knowledge and skills they need for college and career success and ensuring a future U.S. workforce that can compete in a global economy. They also seek to unify learning across the entire United States so that students in every school are gaining the same basic skills and are held to the same rigorous academic goals
Assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards
Teachers and principals talk a lot about assessments, which are used to measure students’ academic achievement. Along with Common Core’s new approach to educational standards, new assessments will also be utilized to measure student achievement in a more accurate and meaningful way. Common Core standards emphasize fewer topics and stress educational outcomes based not only rote skills, but also conceptual and critical thinking. The standards are designed to build knowledge from grade to grade, enabling students to master important concepts before moving on to others.
States are shifting away from multiple choice tests to true assessments that measure not only what a student knows but also determines if a student can actually apply their knowledge in real world settings. These innovative, summative assessments will address longstanding concerns that parents, educators, and employers have had about current state assessments – namely that they measure students’ ability to memorize facts, rather than their critical thinking and knowledge application skills.
The Common Core assessments will also enable educators to deepen their understanding of student progress from grade to grade – and just as importantly, identify any gaps in progress so they can address them well before students enter college or the workforce. During the next few years, assessments will provide results more quickly and in an increasingly readable and easy-to understand format, most likely online. Parents can use this information to better communicate with teachers and school administrators about their child’s progress, and teachers can use it to better tailor instruction to the child’s needs. Because the standards are more rigorous, student assessment scores may initially be lower. A dip should not necessarily be interpreted as a decline in student learning or in educator performance. Educators expect the short-term decline to improve as teachers and students become more familiar with the standards and better equipped to meet the challenges they present.
How can PTAs help?
Local PTAs can play a key role in how the standards are put in place at the state and district levels. PTAleaders are encouraged to meet with their local and state administrators to discuss how their unit can support their district’s implementation plans.
PTA’s can also help families and communities better understand the Common Core Standards and new assessments by sharing the numerous resources developed by National PTA. National has taken the lead on creating both a general implementation guide for families (the Parents’ Guide to Student Success) as well as state-specific guides that will introduce the new assessment and accountability procedures (State Assessment Guides) as they are implemented by states. Both sets of guides are written for families to make sure they understand the opportunities for engagement in implementing the standards at a district level as well as the major improvements in the assessment process. PTAs should collaborate with local education administrators on how to share the guides with all families in their communities.
National PTA has also compiled resource listings by state that local and state PTAs can use to support their work on engaging and educating families on the Common Core Standards. Finally, a Common Core toolkit has also been developed that includes an advocacy training guide, helpful articles and issue briefs, PowerPoint presentations, videos, and an extensive FAQ section.
To access these resources or for more information, please visit www.pta.org/commoncore.
Lee Ann Kendrick is the Regional Advocacy Specialist for National PTA. Erica Lue, National PTA Advocacy Coordinator, contributed to this post.