By Chris Harrington
Connecticut just released new state test scores, and we’ve heard a lot from different groups, educators, parents, and elected officials on what the results mean.
This year’s scores are different from those released in the past, because they’re from new tests developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Many Connecticut students took SBAC tests for the first time last year, but this year they were mandatory for all students.
You may have questions about what this all means. We hope this helps break it down.
What is Common Core?
Common Core refers to a set of standards that the majority of states have agreed to use – in fact, 46 states and Washington, DC use Common Core. Common Core’s goal is to outline the academic skills students are expected to demonstrate at each grade level in order to be on track to be successful in both college and careers. These standards and the SBAC tests are meant to give more honest feedback about whether students and schools are able to meet the Common Core standards. In short, the standards are more rigorous than before.
In short, Common Core helps set the curriculum, and the tests determine how well students understand what they’re being taught.
You can learn more about Common Core here: http://ctcorestandards.org/
How does Common Core Affect Charter Schools?
Charter schools, like all other public schools in the state of Connecticut, have been working to implement Common Core State Standards since they were adopted by our state in July 2010.
Why the Backlash?
Despite its positive intention, Common Core has received criticism from parents, politicians, and even some educators. The question then becomes: Why the backlash?
This question can be answered by first differentiating between standards and curricula. Common Core standards set the goals for what students should know and be able to demonstrate on a variety of assessments, whereas curricula are the plans for how students and teachers will interact with one another to ensure that the standards are met. In other words, the curriculum outlines the day-to-day plan, which prepares students to meet the standard.
The distinction between standards and curricula is important because it helps guide the conversation about why Common Core is so unpopular. The new standards did not provide states with any direction on how their curriculum should be changed to teach these new, higher expectations.
Despite being a source of tension, this omission was very intentional. Instead of creating a countrywide curriculum, the federal government wanted states and localities to maintain control over what they teach. Some states have been able to more easily create and implement a curriculum that aligns with Common Core, while others have struggled.
In 2012, Connecticut’s State Department of Education (SDE) released its Common Core State Standards Strategic Plan. The plan outlined Connecticut’s efforts to adopt Common Core through curriculum alignment, communication with stakeholders, and reorganizing resources. The SDE has continued to support instructional changes by providing all schools with model curriculums and resources to ease the transition.
Do Charter Schools Embrace Common Core?
First and most important, Common Core Standards have not introduced any new standardized testing requirements. In many cases, the standards actually aim to have fewer, but more meaningful in-class assessments.
Additionally, assessing a student’s progress through testing is not a bad thing. Testing provides educators and parents with more up-to-date information on each student’s progress and academic needs. And it also allows policy makers to better understand which aspects of public education are working and which are not, by having a common measure to compare states, districts, and schools to each other.
To summarize: testing is an important measure of progress for students. It can help teachers, parents, and elected leaders understand how well our schools are working to meet the needs of children.
Back to charter schools. They generally have not expressed concerns with the content of the standards. As you know, the mission and vision of almost all charters is to help students achieve at levels that open the door to both college and good paying jobs.
How Will My Child Handle Common Core?
Unfortunately, predicting how well a student will do with a school’s Common Core-aligned curriculum is impossible. The truth is that your student’s performance according to Common Core standards will largely depend on the degree of academic rigor that he or she was exposed to prior to Common Core and the strength of their school, its educators, and the new Common Core curriculum they are using.
In some states, like New York and Kentucky, the percentage of students who met the grade level standard dropped dramatically in the first few years of Common Core testing. We saw that in Connecticut’s first year scores as well, although charter schools did outperform their host districts on average. This type of change is undoubtedly alarming to many parents and students. However, low scores this year do not mean low scores long-term. Connecticut is still adjusting to these new standards and the tests associated with them, and will get better over time.
The important thing is to keep the results in context and help your child avoid feeling stress over the exams. Try to explain to your children that this is just one measure to gauge how well their schools, teachers and curricular materials, and supplies are meeting the goals of Common Core. The increased rigor associated with the SBAC tests could create challenges for some students, but in the long run the higher standards mean students are being challenged to meet their full potential, and will be more prepared for a successful future.