New Standards, New Scores, New Lessons to be Learned
As states begin to assess student progress on the new Common Core Standards, many educators and advocates fear that the scores will be much lower than what we have seen in the past. Kentucky's experience in implementing both the standards and assessments during the 2011-2012 school year could provide some valuable lessons for other states as they tackle these challenges.
For example, if the option is available, should a state implement new standards and assessments in the same year? After talking with Kentucky teachers who have been living that reality, my recommendation would be that states give teachers more time, at least a year, to prepare for and implement the new standards before assessing student performance. It is good news, of course, that the new standards set higher expectations and are internationally benchmarked, which should make us more competitive internationally. But the standards also mean students are tackling more challenging coursework in earlier grades than before, creating something of a teaching and learning gap in areas, such as math, where learning is built on prior knowledge. More time would help our schools and teachers make the necessary adjustments.
We must also prepare parents, advocates and communities for a potential drop in scores. Families and business leaders must be informed about the new standards prior to testing so they will understand both the importance of the standards and the reasons why test scores may decline initially. In Kentucky, for example, the score scale has moved from 140 as the indicator of top performance to 100. That means the scores will appear lower even if a school performs at the same level it did in previous years. Combine that with higher standards and a fast implementation and we could have the perfect storm. If lower scores result in political pressure, there could be a temptation to back off the more demanding standards. But our political and policy leaders simply must stay the course for the benefit of our kids.
The Prichard Committee and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce are partnering on a project called ReadyKentucky to inform families, educators and business leaders about the new standards and the new accountability system. Much effort has gone into informing Kentuckians about the possibility of lower scores and the critical importance of staying the course. I believe that how this plays out in Kentucky could have an impact in other states as we move forward, so we must set a strong and positive example.
You can read about the ReadyKentucky program online and obtain materials that have been produced by both the State Chamber and the Prichard Committee that you may be able to use in your communities. Additionally, information is available on the Business Leader Champions for Education. I would strongly suggest that you follow Kentucky to learn from its implementation. We hope this will be helpful as your state moves ahead.