Common Core Standards stir controversy

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- By Katie Zerr

Education standards adopted in South Dakota in 2010 have come under attack from both liberal and conservative groups before the true impact on the state has been measured.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act it was believed that despite the concentration on math and reading and assessment through testing, the improvement in the assessment scores was unimpressive. The push to adopt the Common Core Standards (CCS) also came from the national level.

According to the South Dakota Department of Education, the goal of Common Core State Standards is to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills the state’s young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

The South Dakota Department of Education (SDDOE) gathered input from educators regarding content, rigor, developmental appropriateness and alignment of the Common Core. According to the SDDOE, feedback from South Dakota educators was generally positive.

So why has an objection to the standards surfaced in the state? Senator Corey Brown, Republican from District 23, which includes Walworth County, and president pro tempore of the South State Dakota Senate, said he believes this push is a reflection of what is happening on the national level. Those objecting are saying the federal government has no constitutional authority to set learning standards in South Dakota or any other state, nor determine how children will be educated.

“I don’t think people have been paying that much attention to it, but it has become a reflection of with the political tone on the federal level,” he said. “I don’t believe the people understand what it is and that they are believing what they are hearing about it.”

He said some of the discussion he is hearing on the state level is that CCS is a way of controlling students from the national level. It has become the center of discussion about local control versus federal mandates. Brown said he believed the standards will generate much discussion in the upcoming legislative session whether or not any action is taken.

“One of the important pieces to this (CCS) is the learning standardization of education that will enable us to track students who change schools,” said Brown. “We know just where there are in their studies when they come into a new school.”

Another of the objections of the CCS in South Dakota education has been fear the teachers weren’t adequately prepared for the transition to the new standards.

“I haven’t been hearing objections from administrators and educators,” said Brown. “Some are saying the teachers are having to work harder in the classroom but they have not been against it.”

Mobridge-Pollock Superintendent Tim Frederick said he has not heard major complaints about CCS from other administrators, educators or parents.

“Honestly speaking, I have not heard a lot of complaints locally about Common Core. Most of our concerns are dealing with the online assessments and making sure that we will have enough computers and bandwidth in place to meet the testing requirement,” he said. “In line with assessments, I feel it is important for community members to understand that we will more than likely see test scores drop. Understand, this is very common whenever you switch tests along with expectations of knowledge learned being much higher.”

The CCS has established a shared set of clear educational standards in English language arts and mathematics for kindergarten through grade 12. One of the basic goals of the CCS curriculum is to promote students to think more critically.

“Teachers will be using classroom strategies that promote a higher level of thinking while they encourage students to demonstrate understanding through application, he said.  “This will help in keeping students more engaged, which should allow students to gain a much deeper understanding of key concepts.”

Frederick said he believes one of the advantages of the program is in who is promoting Common Core.

“We have always had standards to follow,” he said. “Common Core standards have the support of the educators across the state. Administrators, teachers, experts, researchers, education associations and parents have supported the standards.”

Another major advantage of common core, said Frederick, is in student retention of information learned.

“As we all know, we all have a tendency to be able to recall information learned if we learned it beyond simply recalling a correct answer,” he explained. “Common core will require students to articulate why they have chosen an approach to solving a problem. They will be able to demonstrate this through higher-order language skills and assessments that demonstrate understanding.”

 

Ahead of others

The Mobridge-Pollock School District has laid the groundwork for the CCS and has put the district ahead of many other districts in the state that are just beginning to implement the curriculum. He said the support of the public, the parents and teachers is important to the success of the CCS.

“I really believe that what has allowed us to continue to move forward is that we have ‘buy in’ from the majority of the stakeholders within our community,” he said. “Our teachers and administrators are eager to look at what we can be doing to help our students make gains. He said the Mobridge-Pollock School District is a district that is student driven.

“We analyze data constantly in helping us make decisions for the future. We have staff members that have been willing to attend the Common Core training because they believe in it and they truly want what is best for our students,” he said. “It isn’t necessarily what we have done; it is more so that our staff feels responsible for offering a curriculum that is relevant in preparing students to be college and career ready in the future.”

Brown said even with the CCS discussion in the legislature this year, he will not support the political push to get rid of the CCS.

“If the people in the classroom are not against it, how can I be against it?” he said. “I don’t know where the discussion will go, but I don’t believe it will get very far. If it does go further than I anticipate, I believe the governor would veto it.”

Frederick said he believes state administrators are on board with CCS and that discussions to get rid of it are not coming from that level of education. He said for the most part, educators are behind common core.

“Personally, I think it is time for all of us to come to an understanding that we, in education, cannot continue to do the same things that we have done in the past and expect to have success,” he said. “Professional practices in all disciplines change from time to time. Education is no different. Students today need to be challenged to achieve at higher levels. Educators need to be challenged in developing curriculum that allows students to have lessons that are customized so that all students will have the opportunity to learn.”

Others in the South Dakota DOE have said the basics of Common Care are here to stay and steps towards standardized education will continue. This means that students must show proficiency of all the standards before they can move to the next level in the class. It is also part of the customization of education being brought about by the advent of technology.

- Katie Zerr -

 
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