Standards Aim to Prepare Students for Life After High School
Last fall, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) launched the Common Core Standards Initiative with the release of college- and career-readiness standards for public education. Since then they've been developing a set of academic standards in math and English for each grade, K through 12. After working for months with educators, policymaking groups and state education officials, the CCSSO and NGA Center finally released the first draft of the standards to the public this week. The document combines the college- and career-readiness standards with the new academic standards to offer an overall picture of the knowledge and skills that all American children should gain in the classroom.
When developing both sets of standards, they determined that each recommendation should:
- Be evidence and research-based.
- Include rigorous content as well as the application of knowledge through 'high-order' skills.
- Be aligned with the expectations of colleges and the workplace.
- Build upon the strengths and best practices of current state standards.
- Be informed by the world's top-performing countries so that students are prepared to succeed in the global economy.
The document admits that there are limitations to the standards - they set educational goals, but don't tell teachers how to teach to them, or describe in detail everything that should be taught. Instead, the group hopes that individual states and school districts will develop new educational practices tailored to their own students' needs that meet or exceed the goals set in the common standards. Advocates of the Common Standards Initiative believe that, if implemented, the standards will give students across the country a solid educational foundation for success throughout their lives.
The draft is very thorough, offering up 71 pages of standards in math and 62 pages of standards in 'English Language Arts and Literacy in History and the Social Sciences.' During their research into math education in the U.S., the groups frequently encountered the complaint that current math curricula are 'a mile wide and an inch deep.' They therefore sought to provide clear, specific guidelines for a more focused and coherent curriculum that would improve student achievement in mathematics.
At the most fundamental level, the math standards 'define what students should understand and be able to do.' They begin with eight core Standards for Mathematical Practice intended to guide how students should engage with topics in math throughout their elementary, middle and high school years.
- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
- Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
- Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
- Model with mathematics.
- Use appropriate tools strategically.
- Attend to precision.
- Look for and make use of structure.
- Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
The document then goes on to provide a detailed account of the mathematical topics and skills that students should learn at each grade level, from the basic introduction of numerical concepts in Kindergarten to advanced concepts such as probability in high school.
The English standards focus on requirements for English language arts (ELA) that should also guide reading, writing, listening, speaking and language skills in the social and natural sciences. In the introduction, the document notes that some students will achieve college- and career-readiness in these areas before the end of high school, and recommends that schools offer advanced work in areas such as composition, literature, journalism and language to ensure that all students are academically challenged.
The draft points out that the specific skills in the ELA standards will also have applicability outside of the classroom and workplace - they define what it means to be a literate person in the 21st century. Students who meet the standards will be able to engage in close, attentive reading, have the critical ability to pick through 'staggering' amounts of information and thoughtfully engage with high-quality literary and informative texts. They will also learn to utilize the evidence-based reasoning that the document argues is crucial for 'private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic.'
The standards follow four major strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening and language. The key features of each strand throughout the document include:
Students should achieve in-depth comprehension of increasingly complex literary and informational texts throughout their K-12 years. Comprehension includes understanding the main ideas of the text, becoming more sensitive to flaws in the text, considering a range of textual evidence and making connections among ideas and between texts.
Students should master broad writing skills such as the ability to reflect purpose, task and audience. They should also master the individual skills applicable to different types of writing, including narratives, arguments and information and explanatory texts. Because writing is a core component of academic inquiry, research skills are also included in these guidelines.
Speaking and listening.
Students should develop flexible oral communication and interpersonal skills that can be used in both formal presentations and informal interactions. They should learn to listen thoughtfully, evaluate multiple points of view and reach agreement and common goals through teamwork.
The language standards cover the conventions of formal written English as well as issues of craft and style. They also include vocabulary standards that focus on both a nuanced understanding of words and the ability to acquire new words through reading, conversation and direct teaching.
The first draft of the standards, including an introduction and several appendices, are now available online at CoreStandards.org. The CCSSO and the NGA Center are soliciting public comments, which will be open through April 2, 2010. They hope to release a final version of the standards this spring after incorporating the latest round of feedback.
The organizations are especially interested in feedback from teachers. They want to know if the skills described in the documents are teachable and whether or not the grade-progressions make sense to the people who interact with children on a daily basis. They'd also like to hear ideas for developing curriculum materials and assessments that would reflect the new standards.
Thus far, the project has not been without controversy. Many critics fear that common standards will lead to a nationalized curriculum and set of assessments. Paul Barton, a senior associate at the Education Testing Service's Policy Information Center, feels that the idea that one set of goals suits all students is inherently flawed. He asserts that 'We need curriculum opportunities that recognize the diversity of students, how different they are when they enter high school, their different goals, learning modes and ambitions.'
Dane Linn, leader of the project at the NGA Center, says that a 'one-size-fits-all' curriculum or assessment is the last thing they want. The groups hope that their standards will 'catalyze' education organizations, school districts and groups of teachers on a local level to develop curricula and assessments that will achieve college- and career-readiness for all graduating high school seniors.