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Common Core is No Reason to Panic

I’ve been at this long enough that the new Common Core State Standards are the fourth round of standardized testing I’ve worked with.

And the fuss over them is familiar. Each round of testing has had its public outcry. But if you’ve followed educational testing since 1991 as I have, this new round is the next logical step from the previous three rounds. And these standards have some specific goals that I’ve endorsed for years.

What is the Common Core? It’s a push by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to line up the tested standards that have been in place in most states since the late 1990s. When I started drawing Chester’s comix with content in 1999, I found a lot of similarity between those standards that the states set. The Common Core tries to put those similarities into plain terms — if everyone tests on the same science curriculum, then Vermont can know better how it stands in comparison to Texas or Virginia. The Common Core also logically follows the federal No Child Left Behind law from the 2000s: both of them focus on testing test math, science, and language arts, and both allow states to compete for federal money based on showing that test scores are improving year after year.

I see teachers scrambling to figure out what this new push means for their own individual classrooms. I think it’s more marketing than it is new machinery. The Common Core standards in my area seem to promote things that smart teachers are already doing and that I have been promoting for more than a decade. For example: No Child Left Behind did not test social studies, so I sold Chester Comix in that era as a way to use fun nonfiction to help kids with their literacy skills, which WERE tested. Reluctant readers could build literacy AND learn history content at the same time.

The Common Core standards seem to be asking teachers to do that same thing in language arts. For example,
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 asks students to “Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).” That’s the whole thrust of Chester Comix adventures and the lessons in the matching teachers guides on my website!

The trouble is that the Common Core standards don’t say exactly what facts students should know about history in fifth grade, the way Virginia’s own Standards of Learning say exactly what students should know in studying the first half of U.S. history. Virginia’s social studies curriculum is very specific; the Common Core is more generalized and is focused on SKILLS. The Common Core’s CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.4 says “Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 5 topic or subject area,” but it doesn’t give you what those words should be or the topic area or anything else. It’s up to the state or the district to say what subject area will be taught in Grade 5. So the history standards that South Dakota had in place before can still be taught under the Common Core.

I’m not sure exactly what this means for the Common Core test questions. The first Common Core tests are supposed to be given in the 2014-15 school year. The teachers who ask me now about how Chester Comix matches the Common Core get an answer that is either too long (like this blog) or too short (“ALL my comix teach the Common Core!”). Chester answers the Common Core in the structure of the whole enterprise. You can work on the Common Core skills by using the timelines across the top of each page. . . the headlines that are questions. . . the material in the teachers guides.

But if you’d like the longer answer, I’ve laid out some of the relevant Common Core standards and my thinking here.

Now let’s get back to teaching!!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 at 8:43 am and is filed under Author's Purpose. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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