Move Over No Child Left Behind, Here Comes the Common Core State Standards

If you are a student, parent, teacher, administrator, planning on having kids in the next five years, or in a business field doing work in education, YOU MUST READ THIS ENTIRE POSTING!

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are going to play a pivotal role in the U.S. educational system over the next ten years or so. However, before we jump into what are the CCSS, I need to explain what was No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and how it changed education. Back in January 2001, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (continuation of Elementary and Secondary Education Act). While it had many new ideas, the area I want to focus on is testing. NCLB mandated that states will create minimum knowledge tests in the four core subjects- math, English, Science, and Social Studies. This was to ensure that all students graduate from high school with at least basic knowledge.  Each year schools needed to show an improvement from the previous year’s data toward the goal of 100% passing all the tests. This increase was called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Additionally, if schools have “large numbers” of students who do not pass these tests, they are marked for additional scrutiny and more severe ramifications if this happens two years in a row.

The problem here is that these tests were mandated at the federal level but managed at the state level; therefore there were fifty different organizations creating 50 x 4 subject area tests (at just the high school level, even more at the elementary level) and then trying to compare the results. Looking at just the high school math tests as an example, Maryland has its students take the High School Assessment (their version of the graduation requirement NCLB test) after Algebra I; in Pennsylvania their students take the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) after Algebra II. Looking at the AYP data, you need to show improvement not only as a school in total but also within each subgroup.  Sample subgroups are race (African American, Hispanic, Asian), Free and Reduced Meals, and Special Education. If you have two subgroups not show AYP your school is listed as “failing” for the year.  However, the size of a subgroup changes from state to state; in Maryland a subgroup is 5 or more, but in Virginia it is 50 or more. If a child qualifies for two subgroups, they also count towards two AYP goals. For instance, if you have 12 students who are Asian and get special education services but fail Maryland’s HSA, the school is listed as “failing”; in Virginia, those 12 students would have no impact on the school’s performance ratings.

Now that you can see the problems with NCLB, let’s talk about CCSS and how it came about. Basically, the National Governor’s Association were perplexed with the different educational programs and outcomes across the country. After several years of work, the Common Core State Standards were announced in 2009. Focused initially on Math and English (English Language Arts), they span Kindergarten through high school and make the outcomes for the year (K – 8) or the class (Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II) standard across the country. Currently 45 states have signed onto these standards with the holdouts being Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska and Minnesota. However, there was a differing opinion regarding the testing requirements from the federal government. Based on that there are two groups developing tests to meet the needs of CCSS- PARCC and Smarter Balance Consortium. These two organizations are responsible for creating the federal-mandated tests that support the common core curriculum. That way, unlike the NCLB tests, it will be possible to make comparisons across state lines because both the curriculum standards and test assessments are identical. Notice that I said the curriculum standards are identical; that does not mean we have a federal or national curriculum. Curriculum is how you prepare for the course and where you should focus your energies. Standards are goals that everyone should master by the end of the course. This means the daily lessons (curriculum) are created by the teacher based on the goal guidelines created by the district or state (which are in turn based on the CCSS).

I hope this VERY brief introduction gets you thinking about the next 10 years or so in education. We will still have tests that are end-of-course federal requirements. It looks like PARCC and Smarter Balance are considering running these assessments on a tablet platform of some kind. There are so many moving parts at this moment that everything hasn’t been finalized. What is final- the CCSS are coming.  What are you doing to to get ready?


Kevin Giffhorn, M.S., a National Board Certified Teacher, brings over 15 years educational experience as a high-school Mathematics teacher, Department Chairperson and Adjunct College Professor, as well as previous experience running large-scale technology pilot programs. In addition to being named a finalist for Maryland Teacher of the Year in 2004, Mr. Giffhorn was awarded the Carroll County Outstanding Educator with Technology in 2007 and the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics High School Math Teacher of the Year in 2011.

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