Guest column: Making the best of a mixed bag

The Common Core Standards are likely here to stay, but parents, teachers and administrators have much to say about their implementation, writes Dawn Anderson in the second installment of a two-day series.

It’s hard to argue that we don’t need higher standards and better college and career readiness for Idaho students. But are the new Common Core State Standards the best way to achieve that? In Thursday’s column, I responded to several common questions about what CCSS is and isn’t. In this piece, I’d like to address more practical concerns about what it claims to accomplish.

Will CCSS improve student achievement? No one knows. CCSS may be based on educational research and comparative data drawn from achievement standards in other countries, but until it is field-tested on millions of American children in different states, there is no way of knowing for sure how effective it will be until many years and many tax dollars down the road.

Are teachers prepared to implement the standards? This depends. In the Madison School District, the English language arts standards we had in place before are not hugely different from the standards outlined in CCSS. But the math teachers are struggling to teach CCSS because they lack the resources in books and materials to meet the new standards. In fact, we have had a number of math teachers quitting or retiring early, citing the difficulty of dealing with the new standards as a major reason.

Will teachers be held accountable for the results of Common Core testing? The Idaho Department of Education dictates that at least 33 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be tied to student achievement scores. This is intimidating, to say the least.

In places like New York, students taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC’s) for the first time are averaging 70 percent failure rates. By 2015, Idaho could be tying as much as 50 percent of teacher evaluations - and by extension, their pay - to the SBAC’s.

Is it too late to pull out of Common Core? Probably. But if CCSS is now a fact instead of an intention, we are not without recourse. Parents, teachers and administrators can demand that we slow this machine down. We can insist that testing on CCSS be delayed until we’ve worked the kinks out and analyzed feedback. The federal government is prohibited by law from interfering with state curriculum and instruction, so we still have the autonomy to direct the course of our schools.

We can also insist that our legislators restore vital funding to districts which have been operating at deficits ever since the recession began almost six years ago. It is risky to assume that schools can effectively implement new standards without taking care of some fundamental funding gaps first.

With its problems and promises, Common Core is a mixed bag. Let’s see that it doesn’t become a bag of cement which, once poured, sets our course in concrete.