U.S. moves closer to common standards

During a March 10 National PTA panel discussion, Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), said that with the implementation of common core standards, ED wants to move away from “off-the-shelf, bubble-in testing” to assessments that focus more on critical thinking.

“We’ve invested $10 billion in technology, but we’re not using it well,” said Dane Linn, director of NGA’s education division, at the March 10 panel discussion. Students use technology before and after school, he said, but technology use during school is lacking.

“We think of technology as an add-on; we don’t think of it as an instructional tool,” Linn said. He added that educators and stakeholders should work with the publishing community not only to create better textbooks, but also to create a richer set of instructional tools, and that data should inform the instruction that happens in classrooms every day.

With more rigorous standards, some states’ lackluster benchmarks will be revealed—and those students who once seemed to excel under mediocre standards might not perform as well.

“We should be prepared for student performance in some states to go down,” Linn said. “We should prepare for gaps.” But it’s better to expose the areas where students and teachers must improve than to lead them to think they are meeting expectations, Linn added.

Impact on educational publishers

Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers’ school division, said his organization is closely following the common standards movement and “very much supports the common core initiative.”

But a key question is whether there is enough money in the education infrastructure to support such a major change.

“If implemented correctly, the common core [standards] will lead to a massive change in curriculum, professional development, and assessments. All of those things will have to be altered in fundamental ways,” Diskey said. “It’s going to cost a significant amount of money, and I have no idea how much. I don’t know if state legislatures are fully tuned into the fact that the implementation may lead to a need for significant amounts of funding.”

Nearly half of states have rolling state textbook adoptions, but the common standards initiative will change those adoption procedures in states and districts, which raises another process that will have to adapt to the new system, Diskey added.

But the standards are still in draft form, and educators and others should not be too quick in creating a new curriculum around them, he cautioned.

“Standards in and of themselves aren’t curriculum,” Diskey said. “Curriculum takes standards, research, content, and is put together in a pedagogical approach.”

Software companies likely will have to update not only the content that teachers use with students, but also their online professional development, said Donovan Goode, director of marketing for professional development provider PBS TeacherLine.

“We feel there will be a very immediate need to be able to help those teachers effectively implement common core standards in the classroom,” he said. “It will be imperative for us to adapt what we do, and the instructional strategies and pedagogy behind our courses, to be updated to the common core standards.”

Goode said that much of the past eight years’ focus has been on state tests and standards, and the challenge will be to help educators, data coaches, and instructional coaches become comfortable with the new common core standards.

That adjustment most likely will depend on how similar the common standards are to a given state’s current standards.

“I would guess that states will be putting together correlation tables [that indicate] where standards match up,” Goode said. “Districts will probably do a gap analysis and find a way to meet the gaps [with content].”

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