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How to Teach Amid Common-Core Uncertainty

I had the good fortune to share dinner recently with a couple dozen directors of curriculum and instruction. Most were from California districts. But two work in Indiana, which was at the time on the brink of dumping the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC assessments. (It has now done both.)

The Indiana women were describing the frustration of trying to build curriculum without knowing what standards it should be built on, and what tests would ultimate gauge mastery. The more they talked, the more they waved their hands and raised their voices. Finally, one of the women sputtered: "What the hell do they want us to do?"

"Damn, that's rough," said a California curriculum director who'd been listening to the Indiana women's stories. He had no such tales to tell. His state has been clear and consistent about sticking with the standards and using the Smarter Balanced tests. Love the standards or hate them, he at least had strong, unified signals to follow in shaping instruction for his district.

Since that dinner, I keep thinking about educators in states that are flip-flopping or sending mixed signals about their standards and tests. The most recent additions are Louisiana and South Carolina.

As my colleague Andrew Ujifusa has reported, every day seems to bring a new twist in South Carolina. First the deputy superintendent sent a letter to school districts saying they could stop field-testing the Smarter Balanced tests because the state would be pulling out of the consortium. Then the state board of education decided to stick with the consortium after all. Now we learn that the state's superintendent of education says he's pulling the state out of Smarter Balanced singlehandedly (legalities/technicalities to be addressed, one imagines, in the coming days).

Then there's the drama in Louisiana. A group of state legislators is pushing Gov. Bobby Jindal to withdraw the state from the PARCC consortium, something he says he's willing to do, according to the Times-Picayune, even though he has in the past harbored more positive feelings toward PARCC and the common core. This comes after state Superintendent of Education John White has poured a couple of years into helping his teachers—and teachers around the country, in fact—find instructional resources that are well aligned to the common standards.

Even in New York state, where Commissioner John B. King Jr. has come under withering attack for supporting the standards and recently said he has no intention of retreating from that stance, the opposition is so virulent in some quarters that teachers and curriculum designers are bound to feel uncertain about how to proceed.

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