May 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

When Racing to the Top Slows Us Down | On Common Core

uphillOne aspect of my job that I enjoy thoroughly is collaborating with teachers and librarians in different settings, schools, and states. Traveling around the country, from Cambridge, MA, to Wasilla, AK, I’ve learned so much from other educators. Their work has also provided me with a useful vantage point on Common Core State Standards (CCSS) implementation efforts.

The dominant media focus on the Common Core initiative has been a false, for-or-against dichotomy. Supporting the CCSS is often perceived as the equivalent of advocating for standardized testing. Being against them suggests a belief in a top-down government and/or a corporate takeover of education, plus a massive mandate for more testing. Yet, it is the No Child Left Behind federal law of 2001, which has not been re-authorized by Congress, that mandates annual testing.

As I see it, the more important issue is the difference in the implementation of the standards in Race to the Top (RttT) vs. non-RttT states. “RttT has driven the ills of excessive testing; teacher measurement; data-archiving monsters that will track ‘achievement’ by numbers using many days annually in formal assessment,” wrote Paige Jaeger, coordinator for school library services, Washington Saratoga Warren Hamilton Essex BOCES, Saratoga Springs, NY, in this column last January “The Wrong Villian”.

I agree. Many of the professionals I know and work with in states that have adopted the CCSS and accepted the RttT funds—and the required student assessments and teacher evaluations that come with them—feel trapped. At this point, in those states, the CCSS are synonymous with the standardized assessments that are being created in response to them. “Local control” does not feel local, and the tests, not the standards, are the point from which curriculum and school-based assessments emanate. The instructional potential of the standards, the fluidity with which educators can meet the standards and engage students in thoughtful and meaningful reading, writing, listening, and speaking experiences, are a mere footnote. In RttT schools, the test scores matter too much. Everyone feels the heat of the myopic focus on a single method of measurement and the disconnect between what the tests actually measure and the authentic learning opportunities children and young adults desperately need.

Apprenticeships at risk?

There are other issues. Because a portion of the Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR) required by RttT are linked to student test scores, teachers in those states fear that their performance evaluations could suffer if they share their classrooms with novices. Teaching, like medicine, is a combination of academic learning and apprentice-based learning. You can’t learn in classes alone, nor by simply trying your hand at something. You need the synergy of both. Will fewer educators in RttT states welcome our pre-service teachers into their classrooms? Will it become more difficult to nurture and expand residency-based teacher-preparation programs in RttT states? If so, how does an apprentice-based profession survive, let alone thrive, in such a climate?

Professional development (PD) has also taken a detour in RttT states. Instead of focusing on school-specific needs and interests with regard to implementing the standards, a fair amount of PD has focused on constructing and implementing the APPR. How can teachers improve the very practices that are being measured without time to plan for the shifts in curriculum and instruction that should or could be taking place to meet the new standards?

The good news is that the non-RttT schools that I collaborate with and learn about through my students in neighboring states have not yet been forced to narrow the curriculum in the service of standardized tests. Teachers everywhere feel a great deal of pressure. But the educators in these schools, at least for now, do not share the same burden of worrying about the tests to come. They can plan more thoughtfully, and less frantically, around the instructional shifts and possibilities that the new standards offer.

Mary Ann CappielloDr. Mary Ann Cappiello is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.