Sharon Hanson: Education stakeholders should engage in critical thinking

READER’S VIEW: IDAHO CORE STANDARDS

July 24, 2013 

In recent years, No Child Left Behind’s standardized tests, multiple-choice tests that only measure shallow knowledge, dictated what was taught in most classrooms. Phrases such as “drill and kill” sum up what happened to many students’ potential: Innate thirst for knowledge was exchanged for rote memorization and drill of specific skills without inspiration or any scaffolding of skills for authentic critical thinking.

Ideally, student performance is assessed best by professionals who are most familiar with students’ individual classroom achievement — teachers. Good teachers evaluate their students through differentiation, assessment and, most importantly, knowing their students as individuals, not just labels such as “basic” and “proficient.” However, while teachers can assess the individual student, the public and the political (in some ways understandably) continue to look for the most efficacious means of evaluating and comparing student success.

While any universal assessment could appear to dictate only specific content and narrow outcomes, the new Idaho Core Standards instead focus on what skills students need to succeed.

Opponents to Idaho Core Standards suggest that the content is defined, that somehow the government is mandating what students should know.

Ironically, the standards can be applied to learning about an issue or controversy. As I would expect my students to do in learning about an issue, I hope all stakeholders in education will take the time to read the primary document, Idaho’s Core Standards.

Read closely to determine exactly what the standards mandate — and what they don’t. Read others’ opinions on the issue. Recognize the bias on both sides. Then, decide for yourself whether the standards should be supported or challenged. Or, perhaps you will identify the standards’ strengths and weaknesses, as no assessment is perfect.

This final perspective invites dialogue on the issue instead of potentially polarizing labels such as good or bad, conservative or liberal. Democracy thrives on dialogue, an art that is sorely missing even from our country’s leadership.

The strategies mentioned above are skills required by the standards:

Read closely.

“Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.”

Read and understand other points of view.

“Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats ... in order to address a question or solve a problem.”

Develop your own argument.

“Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. Develop claim(s) and counterclaims ... supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s ... possible biases.”

Discuss the issue.

“Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions ... building on others’ ideas and expressing [your] own clearly and persuasively ... . Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material ... . Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision making ... .”

The skills I want my students to master align with many of the guidelines provided by Idaho’s Core Language Arts Standards. I cannot speak for the standards in other disciplines, and I welcome continued discussion on ways the standards can be improved.

In 28 years of teaching, I am well aware that the tides in educational theory and assessment ebb and flow. For now I am grateful to see NCLB recede from our shores, and I applaud the current efforts of Idaho Core Standards to align with more authentic 21st-century skills for our students.

Sharon Hanson is a high school language arts teacher in the Boise School District. She is a 2005 Fellow of the Boise State Writing Project.

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