By Frank Wells
Anita Madden & Carol Wright share their CCSS learnings at right
Educators are heading back to school with a mix of optimism and anxiety over the transition to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which all districts are required to implement, along with new technology-based assessments, in 2014-15. The new standards focus on college and career readiness, with new expectations for high school achievement and greater cross-curricular literacy.
Districts are at varying levels of readiness for the change. Some have taken a head-in-the-sand approach, while others, often at the push of their local CTA chapters, have established transition teams and are working collaboratively with educators on the change. Some CTA locals are “going it alone,” taking advantage of CTA Instruction and Professional Development (IPD) workshops without support from their district. Chapters like the San Juan Teachers Association have formalized collaborative efforts around Common Core through memorandums of understanding or contract language. CTA believes all districts should have transition teams with a majority of union-appointed CTA members.
In response to CTA calls to “go slow to go smart” and provide necessary resources to implement the CCSS, the adopted state budget includes $1.25 billion in Common Core funding over the next two years. The funds can be used for instructional materials, professional development and technology. CTA local chapters are urged to demand to bargain and consult over the use of these funds, as well as other impacts and effects of implementing the new standards. Another reason to move slowly but deliberately is that during the transition period, California Standards Tests (CSTs) will still be based on standards adopted in 1997. The STAR/ CST testing ends in 2014, with the new CCSS-based Smarter Balanced testing beginning the following year.
There is wide consensus that test scores under the new system will dip the first few years.
CTA continues to offer a wealth of resources around the CCSS. This year’s IPD strand at the CTA Summer Institute focused five intensive days on the new standards. Plumas County Teachers Association member Cathy Hunter was among the more than 400 participants; she sees the CCSS as a welcome change. Hunter, who trained to teach in Nevada, says she has “given up trying to make California Standards make sense,” explaining that they are over-compartmentalized and lack “the more clearly matrixed K-12 vision of the CCSS.”
CCSS concerns include high-stakes testing, teacher evaluations
Still, there are concerns out there, a major one being the continuing push to tie teacher evaluation to student test scores and the crushing role of high-stakes testing in general. While the role of student assessment in evaluation is negotiable, some view the CCSS as just a new vehicle to scapegoat teachers and schools.
The issue came to a head at the 2013 NEA Representative Assembly, where delegates approved a CTA-led new business item calling for a moratorium on “using the outcome of tests associated with the CCSS, except to inform instruction, until states and districts have worked with educators to create authentic, locally developed curriculum, assessments and professional development related to the Common Core.” CTA President Dean Vogel spoke, urging the NEA to take the lead in making sure that the CCSS are used properly and educators aren’t abused by the new system. “Everybody’s tired of this testing nonsense, and people are waiting for a voice to tell them the truth,” Vogel told the delegates. “That voice is the National Education Association’s, and the time is now!”
In July Vogel posted the following to CTA’s Facebook page: “The Common Core is a document, a set of standards that is actually comprehensive and comprehensible, and proper implementation of such allows teachers tremendous flexibility and the opportunity to use their best professional judgment. The proliferation of high-stakes testing started long before we’d ever heard of the Common Core. The tests are driven by the monied interests and their very skewed perceptions of the pedagogy. We must separate the two issues if we really want the argument and debate necessary to reclaim and transform our profession. There is nothing inherently wrong or evil about standards. It’s all about the implementation.”