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Change Standards, Test Students, Measure Schools

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The Common Core Standards present a comprehensive, system wide change that must be incorporated in each and every classroom, requiring adoption by every teacher and leader, hopefully wholeheartedly. Implementing them presents another herculean challenge before all teachers and leaders. Robert Rothman, in his book Something in Common, explains, unlike most other changes, these "standards are clear and can provide guidance to classroom teachers about the kinds of learning students are expected to demonstrate" (p. 164). Rothman explains that the Common Core State Standards will not eliminate teachers' ability to develop their own lessons and frame their own classroom's experience. "Common Core State Standards spell out the ends that teachers should seek; they do not specify the steps teachers should take during the course of the year to get there" (p.165). Maybe they should if the implementation timeline is this short. We are asked for compliance and creativity simultaneously. It is no small order. Yet, we have come to this national curriculum in an evolutionary way. Our system has been long called to reform. We responded piecemeal, differently in every classroom and district. That opportunity passed us by. It is a new day.

Teachers, principals and superintendents need not to be trained but to learn, not to be filled with the pieces but to discover value within the Common Core Standards and to embrace their profession anew in this context. We need to experience the difference and become the learners we want to create in our students. Teachers do need a common vocabulary "...that will enable them to work together to develop and plan lessons" (Rothman, p.165). But, when pressure is upon us, time itself becomes a scarcity, complicated by declining fiscal and human resources. Twenty first century technology must become part of the new environment but, again, the demands on time and other resources slow the access to that path. And, yes, along the way we need guidance and feedback from knowledgeable facilitators to help change practice. Our current structure denies us the capacity to do that with fidelity.

The Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education released A Public Policy Statement on March 11, 2013. It is worth a read. Its purpose was to consider the type of education we offer and how it is assessed. Commission members included a vice president from Pearson, and an impressive list of professors along with Diane Ravitch, Rick Hess, and Linda Darling-Hammond. The report notes that policymakers have always seen assessment as a vehicle for enforcing accountability for teacher and school performance. "Accountability is not the problem. The problem is that other purposes of assessment, such as providing instructionally relevant feedback to teachers and students, get lost when the sole goal of states is to use them to obtain an estimate of how much students have learned in the course of a year" (p.7). Our assessment practices are not refined enough to do both...or a singular assessment practice cannot serve both masters.
When the curriculum is shifting, performance standards, unfamiliar, and the assessments new, both student and teacher are placed in strange and new territory. System wide concern exists for the students who will be faced with assessments from a new era. Students are becoming burdened with an abundance of standardized tests for the purpose of measuring the effectiveness of our schools. We are being asked to lean on our students to prove we are doing our job using a single measure and we know it is not fair to them. Teachers and leaders are faced with the additional burden of being directly evaluated by these results also knowing there is an expected slump in results during these first years of implementation of an expectedly flawed process.

Reports of implementation exhaustion, lowered morale, questioning, and cynicism abound. We lead a system under inordinate pressure, with fewer and fewer resources. Is there anyone with a hand on the pressure value? We think not. It is not the content of the standards or the changes in assessment that are wearing us down. We must be vigilant about the seeping in of despair. Each of us must try to watch for and help avoid or heal the wounds formed by the fear and infighting that can arise during these times. Stay informed. Stand up. Speak out. Support each other. Let someone know when it is truly all you can bear. It is a "lean on me" moment. These are the times that it is essential to be able to look inward and muster the strength to stand strong for our school communities, for they need a source of reassurance. Our teachers and leaders are doing the difficult work of change and it is without appreciation or recognition. At least let's be sure to give it to one another.

Rothman, Robert (2012). Something in Common. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

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