We are in a time of hope and excitement in American education. Arizona, like most other states in the nation, has adopted the Common Core Standards as a guide-post for new curriculum in all classrooms K-12. The Common Core Standards represent a staircase of math and literacy skills that students should be able to perform at each grade level in order to be college- or career-ready by the end of grade 12.
The Common Core Standards include what should be taught, but they do not tell educators how to teach those things nor do they tell how to test for mastery. Though they do have some limitations, these standards are quite excellent.
At LitLife, the educational organization for which I work, we are currently immersed in bringing these standards to schools across the country and in writing new curriculum that responds to the demands of the Common Core. We refer to these standards as “The 21st Century Child’s Bill of Rights,” because we see them as educational benchmarks every child has the fundamental right to achieve. We also see this movement as an opportunity for the return of the joy of learning and discovery to the classroom after having been threatened by the testing culture. These standards are designed to be deeper, not wider, so that educators can encourage analysis, creativity, collaboration, invention and application of math and literacy skills. These standards call upon educators to shift their thinking in major ways, toward curriculum that is more reflective of the world our children will live in beyond school where critical thinking will be imperative.
The wild card, however, will be in how districts and schools interpret the standards themselves. Adding these standards to systems that are already ineffective at teaching our students to think beyond answers on a test will be tremendously detrimental to our children. Reducing this positive movement to the effects it will have on standardized testing needlessly encourages stress about more intense test-preparation and denies the opportunity, power and importance of these standards for our children.
The most important part of this equation is the opportunity for improved learning, not testing. If we use the standards as a road map, we can create a much bigger, bolder platform for achieving success for all our students. Our students can have the content knowledge and skills to apply to any task — from rich discussions to solving complicated problems to comprehension of complex texts to taking a standardized test — and they will do extraordinarily well.
I would like to commend Dr. Battle, principal of Desert Vista High School, on her recent letter to parents where she states of the Common Core Standards, “Teachers will be asked to create lessons and activities that are engaging, and that include students working collaboratively creating, analyzing, constructing, problem-solving, designing, reading, listening, and comparing, etc. Does that not sound like fun!” Hurrah, Dr. Battle, for embracing this wonderful time in education more as a positive opportunity for our children and less as a call to panic about harder tests.
• Debbie Lera is executive director of LitLife West, a literacy consulting firm based in Ahwatukee, and the author of “Writing Above Standard.” She consults with schools and families, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.