McClellan: Common Core need not be another AIMS mad dash - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

McClellan: Common Core need not be another AIMS mad dash

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

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Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:45 am | Updated: 9:54 pm, Fri May 9, 2014.

So we approach Schoolaggedon. Otherwise known as Common Core. Or, here in Arizona, the College and Career Readiness Standards.

For some, it’s a chance to up the standards kids must meet in school. For some, the federal takeover of public schools. Or for others, the insidious hand of the United Nations grabbing our school kids.

The last of these three isn’t worth considering, especially since to believe it requires such jumps in logic that only the most excited conspiracy buffs would adhere to it.

As to the federal takeover, well, the Obama Administration sure likes it, seeing as how it has given money to states that have adopted Common Core, in essence a bribe to implement these standards.

It’s true that some who worked on the creation of those standards have since distanced themselves from some of their work, citing some problems with it. There are valid concerns about the whole set up.

Here are mine.

Most importantly, we seem to be making the same mistake we did with AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure). Standards here in Arizona, a rush to a high stakes test.

When that set of state-imposed standards were created, schools hardly had time to get them into the classroom before the testing began. Ideally, skills in school are build upon one another, which means that the primary grades lay the foundation from which the later grades build. So for example, a student in third grade might learn that a paragraph has to have a main idea that the writing develops. By high school, that’s morphed into a thesis that the essay proves, using a variety of methods. Or an elementary student might read for main idea and details in a story or a short article; a high school student might read for persuasive techniques the writer uses and later, read to evaluate the effectiveness of those techniques.

But when AIMS originated, there was a rush to get the standards in the classes and test before schools had adequate time to thoroughly teach them at all levels, not to mention little evaluation of how good the standards actually were in the classroom.

Which led to the state first dumbing down the test and then lowering the passing scores and eventually making it so that a student could graduate from high school without even passing those alleged graduation tests.

Supposedly, we will begin testing for Common Core next year, just a few years into the implementation of them. This is far too quickly, because we’ve yet to really evaluate how those standards are actually working and clearly haven’t had time to allow students to go through the years under those standards.

Which means? High school kids next year will take tests that assume they’ve been in a system under the Common Core standards since they entered school, which clearly they have not. We’re setting ourselves up for failure, particularly given what I’ve seen in some sample Common Core test questions. The good news is that the reading portions of those tests clearly require our kids to think more critically and with greater depth. The bad news? It’s not really bad, but the level of complexity for that reading I’ve seen is much higher than what our kids typically now face.

You can see where that’s heading, then: older kids who’ve had little exposure to more complex reading being tested as if they’ve gone through their school years building to that.

We haven’t really evaluated how good the standards are, we haven’t tweaked those that need modification, we’re rushing to test. A test, by the way, designed to be taken by computer, computers many school districts have too few of or have inadequate bandwidth for the testing, another part of a looming disaster.

So?

If these standards do indeed accomplish what they are supposed to — more depth in thinking, better connections in learning from grade to grade, meaningful testing — of course we’d all be thrilled. And as an old English teacher, I see nothing wrong with the English standards. In fact, they seem to be what good, challenging teachers should expect from their kids.

Some of the controversy surrounding the new standards should be dismissed as the typical kookiness of a few very loud voices. But there are genuine concerns we all should have about Common Core. My advice: With something this dramatic, we need to take our time. Let’s slow down a little.

• Mike McClellan is an East Valley resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

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