Common Core Status in Flux as States Debate Standards, Tests

Jul 16, 2014 by

Millions of students will return for a new school year in a matter of weeks, but they could face a confusing turn of events as states debate whether to keep the Common Core State Standards or give students new learning expectations a year or two from now.

Several years after more than half of all states adopted Common Core, many leaders are facing political pressure to scale back or repeal the standards. In Missouri, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon joined several other governors in moving away from Common Core when he signed a bill Monday allowing teacher and parent groups to develop recommendations for revising the standards.

[READ: Group Calls for Phasing in of Common Core Tests and Consequences]

“Over the past several years, we have made significant strides to increase rigor, transparency and accountability in our classrooms and with my signature today, this progress will continue,” Nixon said in a release. “By continuing to raise our expectations and implement more rigorous standards, we can ensure every Missouri student graduates with the skills needed to compete and win in the global economy.”

Emmett McGroarty, director of education at the American Principles Project – a grass-roots organization that has been leading a charge against the standards – praised Nixon’s actions, saying the move is “the first and crucial step” toward replacing Common Core.

“The American people recognize that [Common Core] is extremely flawed and want a better education and a better future for their children,” McGroarty said in a statement. “Politicians are becoming more aware of the issues with the Common Core and the reasons for the pushback against it.”

So far, three states – Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma – have dropped the standards, and others appear to be making strides in that direction.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican and strong supporter of the standards initially, signed a bill repealing them in June, saying federal overreach had “tainted” Common Core. But that repeal now faces a legal challenge in the state Supreme Court.

[ALSO: Intense Common Core Opposition Is Higher Among Parents]

Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is entangled in a dispute with the state board of education over whether he has the authority to repeal the standards and the use of Common Core student assessments, and there are three active Common Core bills in North Carolina. One is similar to Missouri’s bill and would create an advisory commission to make recommendations on revising the standards, while another – which the state House of Representatives will vote on this week – would replace Common Core.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, signed an executive order Monday creating a task force to study the effectiveness of the standards and the aligned tests. He also announced that student performance on the tests will carry less weight in teacher evaluations for the next two years.

“Establishing this commission is just another step in ensuring we’re providing the best quality education possible to our students,” Christie said in a release.

But all the back and forth between which standards to use – as well as how and whether teachers will be evaluated based on student test scores – can be confusing and harmful, says Michael McShane, a research fellow in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

“There’s this sort of tacit understanding we have that policymakers will set expectations for teachers, and we’ll develop measurements to measure how well they’re doing and hold them accountable based on those measures,” McShane says. “If you’re constantly changing the goal posts on them – which I think is really what’s sort of happening here, both on deciding what standards and shuffling in and out of testing consortia – [it’s] unfair to a lot of teachers.”

[RELATED: The Politics of the Common Core State Standards]

 

McShane, a former Alabama high school teacher, says it could be a waste of time for teachers who have “conceivably” spent the last several years attending professional development seminars to train them on how to teach to the new standards.

“If a state makes a decision that they need to get rid of the Common Core … that is entirely their right and responsibility to do. But when they do that, they have to have a plan in place that clearly articulates what they’re going to do next,” McShane says. “You can’t just say, ‘We’re getting rid of this, and then we’re going to figure the rest out.'”

Oklahoma is the state Common Core supporters are most nervous about, says Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington. The situation is concerning because language in the repeal bill emphasizes that any new standards should look nothing like Common Core, presumably to prevent a situation like Indiana’s, where critics have said new standards are simply a rebranding of Common Core.

“If there is this pressure to just make sure the standards are different from the Common Core … it’s going to mean that teachers who have been working for four years to get trained on these new standards, to update their curriculum, that all that work is going to be thrown out the window,” Petrilli says.

That can be problematic for both teachers and students, he says.

“If you’re in a state now where the news is the standards may change, the tests may change, that creates a lot of uncertainty,” Petrilli says. “We know that for reform to work there’s got to be a plan that everyone can bank on … There’s got to be a sense of predictability. All of that is at risk.”

[MORE: College Leaders Rally Around Common Core]

It’s one thing for states to delay the use of tests aligned with Common Core, mentally retarded Petrilli says, but to be questioning which standards or tests will be in place a year or two in the future is more of an ordeal.

“It depends a lot on whether the standards change a little or change a lot,” Petrilli says. “If the standards change a lot, then yes, that is devastating to the school improvement efforts that are underway.”

Common Core Status in Flux as States Debate Standards, Tests – US News.

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