A recent Idaho Politics Weekly poll found that 57 percent of Idahoans are opposed to the Common Core State Standards, and 44 percent of those polled believe schools are worse today than they were five years ago. I beg to differ.
I have been an elementary teacher in Idaho for the past 15 years, starting my career long before the Common Core State Standards were adopted. As a matter of fact, when I first started as an educator, we didn’t adhere to a common set of standards at all, instead loosely following a curriculum. Teachers had the freedom to create thematic units around any topic they wanted. They did a great job of taking that topic and teaching all subjects with it, but the problem was that students might participate in a unit on the ocean one year and another unit about the ocean the following year because both teachers happened to enjoy teaching that topic.
No Child Left Behind took that creativity away from teachers and required a more rigid teaching of facts and skills. Because of the high-stakes testing, many schools were spending weeks and months drilling kids in preparation for the tests, which took the joy out of both teaching and learning. I began to see students who weren’t interested in school, and who were increasingly unable or unwilling to think for themselves — they just wanted me to give them the answers.
Contrary to what the poll found, teaching is so much better now that we have the Common Core State Standards/Idaho Core Standards. The standards are aligned from K-12th grade, and each year builds on the previous year’s learning to increase and deepen students’ understanding as they progress through school.
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The changes in my students are remarkable. My third graders understand text on a much deeper level than ever before, are more engaged, and take responsibility for their own learning. They have become problem solvers and critical thinkers as well as collaborators with other students. Most importantly, they enjoy school and learning again, seeking out their own answers rather than waiting for me to tell them the right answer and leading them to feel a sense of accomplishment.
The Common Core State Standards are more rigorous than previous sets of standards. Students are now being exposed to instruction that was once reserved only for advanced learners, and they’re excelling — proving that raising expectations means raising student achievement.
Because we need a way to measure students’ achievement, Idaho’s original standardized test, the ISAT, has been replaced by another version that was created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC. This new assessment is a much more accurate gauge of students’ abilities in both math and reading. Unfortunately, the ISAT has left a bad impression on many teachers, students and parents, and I can’t help but wonder if their dislike for the standards is actually misplaced distrust of the test.
Idaho Politics Weekly stated that “the age group 18-29-year-olds most recently left public education. And they are not impressed with their schooling, either.” Unfortunately, these statements demonstrate a lack of understanding of how the Common Core translates to the classroom. If you consider that the majority of the respondent’s schooling was before the implementation of Common Core, and anyone older than 22 would not have experienced Common Core at all, it seems that Idahoans have much to learn about what Common Core actually looks like for students.
Many of the people I encounter who are opposed to the Common Core State Standards have never actually read them. Once you’ve read the standards, you can better understand how they ensure that students are college- and career-ready when they leave high school. If you haven’t yet read the standards, it’s time to take a look.
Christine Cahoon has taught for 16 years in the Coeur d’Alene School District, having just finished her first year as an English Language Arts instructional coach at the middle school level. She has also served on her school’s leadership team and writing committee, and as the Response to Intervention facilitator.