By Chris Kieffer
Have you ever wondered how your daughter’s school compares to the one your nephew attends in Colorado?
Finding an answer could be easier as a result of the new Common Core State Standards.
Currently, such comparisons are difficult because every state uses different standards and tests. The best way to know how states compare to each other is the National Assessment of Educational Progress – which measures fourth- and eighth-grade English and math. But it does not provide data for individual schools.
Under Common Core, participating states will use the same standards and many will take the same standardized tests. That will allow residents to see the percentage of students who score proficient at each school.
One danger, some say, would be comparing an “A”-rated school in one state to a “B”-rated school in another. That’s because individual states still will determine how they rank schools. In other words, it may be easier to be a “B” school in Florida, for example, than in Alabama.
Students will read fiction
One element of the Common Core that has caused confusion is its emphasis on informational texts, essentially nonfiction ones. The Core’s guidelines call for 50 percent of student texts in elementary grades to be informational ones. That grows to 55 percent in middle school and 70 percent in 12th grade.
Among the reasons for the requirement is to introduce students to firsthand sources and to help them to better understand technical manuals and nonfiction reports they will encounter outside of school. They also should be introduced to speeches, essays, biographies, journalism and literary nonfiction.
Educators insist, however, that the guideline will not mean a reduction of literature in English classes. It includes all of the reading students do during the day, they say. In other words, students can meet their informational text requirement from history, science and even math classes. English classes are where they will continue to read fiction and classics.
Educators also note there are no required reading lists associated with Common Core. Decisions on what to read will be made by local school districts and teachers.
Common Core opponents also have raised concern with statements that the new tests would provide partial credit on math questions.
James Mason, director of student assessment for the Mississippi Department of Education, said this is deceiving. Partial credit only would be given on extended math questions with multiple steps, he said. In those cases, students could receive credit if they got part of the problem correct.
“Two times three is always six,” Mason said. “We are not giving partial credit for two times three.
“We are giving partial credit for where you work through a complex math equation and demonstrate understanding but you might miss one small element.”
Controversy over testing
Recently, several states – including Alabama, Georgia and Indiana – have pulled out of the PARCC testing consortium, initially formed by a group of 23 states working together to develop new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core. It currently includes 17 states, including Mississippi, plus the District of Columbia.
Florida has withdrawn from being the fiscal agent for PARCC and appears likely to withdraw from the consortium too, although it has not yet officially done so.
It should be noted that withdrawing from the testing consortium is different from pulling back from the standards. All of the states that have left PARCC still plan to implement Common Core, but will use various alternatives to test students.
States do not need to be in PARCC or the other testing group – Smarter Balanced – in order to adopt the new Common Core guidelines for English and math instruction.