Standards Based Education and the Common Core State Standards

By Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Schatz

Dr. Jeffrey SchatzDuring the past few months there has been a movement launched across the United States to slow down or stop the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  As we all know, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Wayne G. Sanstead officially signed on June 20, 2011 to adopt the CCSS for statewide implementation starting in July 2013.  The CCSS are standards for English Language Arts and mathematics, with standards currently being developed for the sciences.  This change in course has happened before.  I thought it would be timely to take a trip back to 1983 and review just where we have been with standards based education.

So here we are in 2013 and implementation of the CCSS is in full swing across the state and in our local schools here in Fargo.  Much has been talked about regarding the academic rigor, new assessments, and the curriculum that is taught to meet these new standards.  Often times the task at hand seems daunting, but during this time of change one must be reminded that the movement towards a standards based curriculum has roots that go back to 1983.  Since that time we have been engaged in an ever changing environment where one initiative after another professes to be the answer to overall student proficiency and college or career readiness.

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published a report called a “Nation at Risk.”   The report prompted debate over the state of education and the improvements needed to overcome the challenges facing education. The policy debates included discussions about raising expectations for student and teacher performance, and the need to develop a system that systematically set the standard for that performance.  Changes suggested at the time included new graduation requirements and enhanced educational materials.  These changes failed to improve overall student achievement scores.  This failure was attributed to a lack of consistency in curricular expectations, which transformed into a national conversation about “standards.”

The first group of teacher organizations that organized a standards approach to their curriculum was the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).  In 1989, they published the first national standards based education called the NCTM Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics.  The US Department of Education endorsed this group’s work and subsequently offered funds to other curriculum organizations to develop what would be perceived as national standards for all subject areas.

During this time, President H.W. Bush held a conference with the governors from each state with the purpose of developing a way to improve overall student test scores and consistency of expectations for teacher and student performance across the nation.  The outcome of this effort was something called America 2000, which never became law but was the impetus behind what would be called “Goals 2000.”  Goals 2000 became the new standard for which all schools would meet certain standards of achievement. During the Clinton presidency, schools were asked to develop rigorous curriculum standards on a voluntary basis.   However, this educational initiative failed to gather any momentum. This failure set the table for the next standards initiative with reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and something called “No Child Left Behind.”

The failure of Goals 2000 became the political bailiwick of the presidential campaign in 2001 and the new administration of George W. Bush quickly spurred a bi-partisan effort to develop a new educational initiative called “No Child Left Behind.”  The new laws adopted in 2002 required each state to develop rigorous standards and to engage with a neutral testing company to develop “high stakes testing” where schools would be held accountable for student achievement.  Germane to this system was a set of assessment criteria where each school would be measured and ultimately determined to meet the standards called adequate yearly progress or meeting “AYP.”  Strict sanctions were put in place and schools not making AYP were placed in various different levels of school improvement.

On a side note, the words “leaving no one behind” can be attributed to language found in Raising Standards for American Education: A Report to Congress, the Secretary of Education, the National Education Goals Panel, and the American People. This was a report commissioned in 1992 and is believed to be the origin of the 2002 “No Child Left Behind” language.

During the past 12 years, schools have been wrestling with the mandates associated with the NCLB legislation.  The disenchantment with the law and failure of the Federal Government over the past six years to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has caused political leaders at different levels to move away from the law and propose new solutions to the ongoing standards based education approach.

The first solution came from President Obama and Education Secretary Arnie Duncan.  They developed a waiver system and provided the opportunity for states to opt out of the NCLB regulations in return for a new plan, which would include high stakes performance evaluations for teachers and principals.  As much as 50% of student assessment scores would become part of the performance evaluation.  The North Dakota Department of Public Education (NDDPI) submitted a waiver plan to the US Department of Education; however, disagreements over the percentage of student assessments included in the performance evaluations caused newly elected NDDPI State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler to opt out of the waiver plan and focus on implementation of the CCSS.  So where did the CCSS come from?

In 2007, the nation’s governors convened to come up with a new approach and engaged education experts and leaders, business leaders, and private educational cooperatives to engage in a process to develop national standards or the “Common Core State Standards.”  By 2009, the standards had been developed and individual states began reviewing the standards.  State by state began adopting these new standards with the goal of implementation by the year 2012. In North Dakota, a statewide committee of content and instructional experts including teachers from FPS studied and reviewed CCSS from June 2010 to April 2011, then voted unanimously on April 6, 2011 to adopt the CCSS.  Currently, 45 states have adopted the CCSS.

There have been claims that this is a Federal government initiative however, the US Department of Education did not spearhead this effort.  Knowing that the nation’s governors were developing these standards, the US Department of Education endorsed the work and did provide some financial backing through “Race to the Top” grants.  Specifically, states who were applying for Race to the Top grants were required to engage in a process of developing common core standards with other states.  This was 40 of the overall 500 points required in the application.  Subsequently, the US Department of Education also granted Race to the Top funds to the two assessment consortia who have led the process to develop common assessments for the CCSS.  Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) received a four-year, $176 million grant and Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) received a $170 million grant to develop common assessments.  North Dakota has adopted the SBAC assessments.

So, what is the bottom-line for the Fargo Public Schools?  We are moving forward with the implementation of the CCSS as adopted by NDDPI.  In preparing for the first round of state testing, Dr. Grosz, Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, and his team are working with our schools to ensure that the curriculum we are teaching meets the more rigorous standards outlined in the CCSS.

By 2014, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium will develop a fair and reliable system of next-generation assessments for English language arts/literacy and mathematics for grades 3 – 8 and 11 aligned to Common Core Standards. These assessments will be administered online, allowing for timely results that will provide information to teachers to help differentiate instruction. The assessment system will include:

  • A computer adaptive summative assessment administered during the last 12      weeks of the 2013-14 school year. This assessment can be used to describe      student achievement and growth of student learning as part of program      evaluation and school, district, and state accountability systems.
    • This  will replace the current NCLB state assessment developed by CTB McGraw Hill.
  • Optional computer adaptive interim or formative assessments administered at locally determined intervals. These assessments provide information about student progress throughout the year.
    • This could possibly replace the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Assessment that we give to students in grades 2 – 10. (Still yet to be determined.)
  • Formative tools and resources that help teachers differentiate instruction and meet the unique needs of each student.
    • This will be a data base of strategies, lessons, unit plans, videos, and other resources that teachers can use to assist them in teaching and assessing the common core standards.

In addition and as of now, we plan to continue using the AIMSweb assessment in grades K – 5.  AIMSweb is a scientifically based, formative assessment system that universally screens students. The AIMSweb measures were specifically designed to assess the Big Ideas of Literacy including Phonological Awareness, Alphabetic Principle, Fluency with Connected Text, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. The measures are linked to one another and have been found to be predictive of later reading proficiency.

The challenge in all of this is to recalibrate where we are going as we implement new standards and increase the rigor of our curriculum.  This process presents several challenges, and as history has indicated, only time will tell if this transition to new standards will be the perfect solution to overall student proficiency and college or career readiness.

I DO KNOW one thing is for sure: our teachers will be up to the task and will do their best to ensure that each child who enters a classroom in the Fargo Public Schools is provided with a curriculum and education that will prepare them for life beyond their senior year.  We know that nothing is perfect and there will be challenges; however, working together as ONE is a powerful concept, and by doing so we will meet this new challenge head on and succeed as we always do.

Reference:  For a review of standards-based education in the United States, please read the following paper that was used as background material for this Cabinet Column.
Standards-Based Reform in the United States:
History, Research, and Future Directions
Laura S. Hamilton, Brian M. Stecher, and Kun Yuan
RAND Corporation
Paper commissioned by the Center on Education Policy, Washington, D.C.
For its project on Rethinking the Federal Role in Education
December 2008

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