Undercutting the Strengths of the Common Core State Standards

No need for you to do a close reading of the paragraphs below, which are taken from the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts for 9th and 10th graders. Just pay attention to the words and phrases in bold type, which include “initiate,” “participate,” “work with peers,” “actively incorporate others into the discussion,” and “thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

These particular standards encompass skills we want young people to develop: assimilating and analyzing information, speaking persuasively, and working effectively with others. However, these ‘soft skills’ are impossible to test for by means of either a computer-based exam or a paper-and-pencil, fill-in-the-bubbles standardized test. These are judgement calls, which must be made by qualified teachers.

So here’s today’s question: What are the odds that these essential skills are being stressed by teachers in states and districts that plan to use Common Core test scores to play “Gotcha” with teachers?

That’s not really a question, of course. Teachers who know they may be fired or demoted based on their students’ scores are going to behave rationally. They are going to emphasize what they know will be on the test…even though they are fully aware that the soft skills listed above are essential for success beyond school. (And they will be supported by their principals, whose jobs also may hang in the balance.)

Some readers may not agree much of the Common Core is praise-worthy, but I believe we need to expect more of our children. While in some areas of the country these new standards may be too low, in most regions higher standards are a darn good idea.

Yes, these particular standards are too detailed. Yes, they may actually harden the practice of age-segregation. Yes, they were foisted upon a largely unaware school system. And, yes, the Common Core State Standards are ridiculously text-biased and do not even begin to acknowledge the power of today’s technologies to liberate learning; instead they over-emphasize text while ignoring the multi-media reality that today’s young people inhabit.

However, those flaws are forgivable and/or fixable. The issue that must be addressed immediately is the inane, insane policy of playing “Gotcha, teacher” with the student scores.

I think the solution is straightforward: Because our current geniuses-in-charge do not trust teachers and because we cannot easily replace 3.1 million teachers, we need some new geniuses.

Preferably ones who do not think “I am a genius” when they look in the mirror.

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
Work with peers to set rules for collegial discussions and decision-making (e.g., informal consensus, taking votes on key issues, presentation of alternate views), clear goals and deadlines, and individual roles as needed.
Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.
Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:
Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grades 9-10 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

5 thoughts on “Undercutting the Strengths of the Common Core State Standards

  1. I think you’re correct, John. I don’t know anyone who can argue with these desirable goals. It would, however, have been nice if, in developing these standards, the people who developed the Common Core had practiced the skills they define as desirable — “participate,” “work with peers,” and “actively incorporate others into the discussion” while encouraging a “thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas” — instead of foisting them overnight on an unprepared profession.


  2. Here’s how I saw this handled in Texas…

    Which is NOT a way to have an effective collaborative discussion?

    A. Participating
    B. Initiating
    C. Yawning
    D. Expressing

    My guess is Texas is not alone. To be able to lead a classroom in “thoughtful, well-reasoned” exchanges of of ideas, I would assume the teacher would have to have these abilities. In Texas we elected George W. Bush as governor. I’ll stop there.



    • The man’s comment above is not a reply made by a reasonable person. The bias and silliness degrades the maker and the blog.


    • Ken, Texas is not a Common Core state, so it’s not following these standards. Of course, these skills are still desirable, and should be taught regardless of a state’s academic standards, but that is a separate issue…


  3. My cynicism will be showing in this comment.

    CCSS and “CCSS-aligned” standardized high-stakes tests are a package. Before the tests started happening, people read the standards and some thought they were good. “They promote critical thinking! They promote collaboration and creativity! No more NCLB-type close-ended testing and instructing!” They didn’t see the tests coming. (I don’t know why not.)

    Now that we’ve rolled through a year or three of the other side of the coin (the tests) we realize that CCSS is not about critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and open-mindedness. It’s just another way to drum up evidence that schools are failing, teachers are incompetent slackers, and student lives do not matter.


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