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The Golden Age of Common Core

I believe we're in a "golden age" with the Common Core State Standards. It's certainly a golden age for curriculum publishers, who can now sell the same materials in 45 states, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the classroom.

The standards are being rolled out in districts and schools around the country (except in the handful of states that haven't adopted them), and teachers are adjusting their plans to match the new standards. But our worries about the assessments are still a good year away.

There are detailed item specification documents on the consortium websites, but no students have taken the assessments and received their scores, so the assessments aren't yet occupying our attention the way they will when they're fully deployed in 2014.

While this might tempt us to postpone the switch to Common Core, I think the best opportunity to help all of our students become college and career-ready is now, before there's any temptation to start the narrowing that the tests will inevitably encourage.

The standards are clear. They define what students should know and be able to do, including specific performance tasks, with great clarity. They leave plenty of room for teachers to determine how to help their students meet the standards. Yet they don't specify narrow tasks and assignments, and this creates a rare window of freedom to just teach well and not worry about standardized testing.

I don't think standardized testing is evil, and to some extent, I think it's necessary and valuable. I've written before that it serves several critical purposes. But it's nice to not have to worry about it for a short while. We can still give our students rigorous, meaningful assignments that help prepare them to meet the standards.

Yes, teachers and principals still have to worry about their current state assessments, but it's clear that the emphasis on NCLB-style accountability is waning, and we know our current assessments are on their way out.

My hope is that we can use this interim period to adjust our teaching and assignments to match the rigor and specific expectations of the Common Core, even though the assessments are more than a year away. The assessments won't measure everything that matters. If we delay action, then jump straight to "Is this going to be on the test?" we will have lost the opportunity to improve the richness of what happens in our classrooms to help students become more college- and career-ready.

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