NC should move ahead on national testing linked to Common Core

January 20, 2014 

Some conservatives see the Common Core State Standards Initiative as a conspiracy to install a one-size-fits-all standard for language and math testing that will somehow change the face of American education and remove all flexibility.

In fact, it’s supposed to better measure students’ basic skills and demonstrate whether they are prepared for higher education. Some 45 states, including North Carolina, have adopted the English and math standards.

But the transition to Common Core testing is a challenge, one reason that North Carolina’s State Board of Education is considering – and apparently leaning toward – not implementing a new round of tests geared to Common Core standards. The national tests connected to Common Core were to begin in the 2014-15 school year.

Some teachers favor a delay because the switch will be highly stressful. State Superintendent June Atkinson also says a delay might be wise because “of all the changes teachers, parents and others have faced in the past five years.” And there is no question that our overworked and underpaid teachers will have some additional work here.

If the board approved a delay, the state would stay with its own state-written standardized tests for two more years.

No good reason

The problem with delay is that it isn’t likely to accomplish much except delay. The hard-core opponents of Common Core in the state legislature aren’t going to warm to it over the next two years. Their opposition will only harden. These days, the General Assembly is not exactly the location of thoughtful debate and compromise. And delay might well strengthen notions held by some Common Core opponents that it’s all wrong and should just be abandoned.

Meanwhile, other states will get a jump on the testing and on what’s likely to demonstrate in some states that more students are not as prepared as they should be. One fear, after all, is that higher standards will produce lower scores or more students not making the grade, so to speak, something state education officials doubtless fear will spur even more criticism of public education and perhaps even stronger arguments for more charter schools and a broader program of vouchers for private schools.

Hard-won standards

But this change will be positive in the long term. The standards that the states established were hard-won after much study and discussion. Common Core was not something governors and state education officials came up with over morning coffee.

One goal for Common Core is to provide a measuring stick so that states can see how they compare against one another and, for that matter, against international schools as other countries have adopted similar standards. Without comparison, how will states learn from each other or gain a baseline of sorts in terms of what they need to do to bolster primary and secondary public education?

Pressured to help students achieve, teachers in North Carolina and elsewhere “teach to the test” or are accused of doing so. It’s no wonder. They’re judged in part on how students do on the state tests.

Though the transition period is likely to be tough on teachers and students and may reveal shortcomings in language and math education, the tougher and more uniform standards of Common Core will be better for all. As former Gov. Jim Hunt has said, “When states adopt consistent, rigorous education standards, the promise to our children – and their parents – is that a high school education means something.”

Common Core was a long time coming, and no state – especially one such as North Carolina with poorly paid teachers and underfunded public schools – should back away from it.

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