|Dr. Douglas Reeves|
As a global educational authority on leadership and effectiveness, Dr. Reeves-- one of just five experts to review the 490-page document prior to its public debut-- begins his Common Core State Standards presentation by explaining the origin of standards:
"The genesis extends back before the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001," said Dr. Reeves. "States started adopting their own standards because the use of standards is a better way to evaluate children than the 'bell curve' and the norm reference tests that compared kids to each other."
As a result of NCLB-- in 2002, each state's getting its own standards was a worthy accomplishment, were it not for the wild inconsistencies it created between states and their 50 different tests.
"Here we are ten years later .... now saying there are some things in literacy and math that really hold us together as a society," said Reeves. It's just a way to be more efficient-- in a more highly mobile society, as kids move not only from district to district but state to state, it makes a lot of sense that we have some common understanding about what kids should know and be able to do."
To help understand what these standards represent, Dr. Reeves explains they are not meant to work in tandem with the No Child Left Behind Act. Different from the Adequate Yearly Progress measures of NCLB, new core standards assessments won't be just another "misused" reading or math test. Rather, CCSSI is to involve an entirely new "assessment learning system" encompassing classroom activities, things that teachers and local schools can collaboratively score, and performance assessments over the course of several days.
"If they can in fact create that vision, then there isn't any doubt we will have something better than what we have right now," Reeves asserts. "If by contrast, all we do is have one national reading and writing test used for high stakes replacing the old reading and math tests, then we will not have made a whole lot of progress."
Dr. Reeves also praised the CCSSI for its:
1. Rigor and Clarity that is "outstanding" and significantly better than most sets of state standards. Expectations for success and connections between grade levels are very clear, and the standards err on the side of specificity. Reeves stated that the proposed standards initiative is dramatically better than what he sees being taught in most 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classrooms in the country right now.
2. Refreshing emphasis on non-fiction writing: which helps students in literacy, math and science. The standards writers explicity indicated that nonfiction writing is a part of science, a part of social studies, which Reeves called a 'home run win.' The standards also say that informative writing begins in kindergarten, and the standards document settles the issue that literacy starts in kindergarten.
3. The List that endorses the classics of children's literature, doesn't dumb things down, or permit verbal expectations to decline through too much reliance on graphics. Reeves noted "there are some fine things that otherwise would have been lost in American literature (both fiction and nonfiction) that this document will preserve":
In case you do not care to wait for the CCSSI to see this wonderful set of books: The List: Nonfiction and Fiction from K to 12. Officially, this is considered neither a required nor a comprehensive list.
4. Math Standards include illustrations of what complete problem-solving looks like.
A Big Weakness
On the critical side of things, Reeves did say the developers of the initiative, as Herculean as their project is, tap danced too much by saying in a 3-page preamble that "nothing in this document shall be construed as telling people how to teach":
"Balderdash, baloney," says Reeves. "You can't talk about standards and what to teach, you can't talk about the value of non fiction writing, you can't talk about high expectations of (students), without also saying that teaching is not a matter of personal taste ... We know that some teaching practices including non fiction writing, including effective feedback ... including good relationships with kids ... are more effective than others."
But As Massachusetts & Iowa Go ...
The other 48 would be wise to go as well. Reeves reminds listeners that the standards movement was not the product of the federal government or officials from any particular political party telling them it had to be done. Instead, the standards movement is the best way to "teach, assess, and to lead," and it began during the 1990s because it was the right thing to do. For those states concerned that accepting the common core standards would have them settling for less, consider the Massachusetts and Iowa examples:
Massachusetts' students posted nation-leading scores in NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) in reading & math for 3 consecutive trials-- even as its ELL and poverty levels increased-- yet it still saw fit to adopt the components of the CCSSI. Though Reeves believes the state will have to resolve which set of standards (state or CCSSI) it will eventually follow, the Massachusetts example illustrates how adopting core standards is not the same as giving up your own.
As written of in the companion blog entry "Common Questions About the Common Core Standards," Iowa is taking the same approach as Massachusetts, about which Reeves remarked:
"A lot of people thought this day for common standards would never come," explains Reeves. "Heck in Iowa, they never thought they would have state standards, because every county thought they had a different number of letters in the alphabet presumably," Reeves said. "There is lot of local territorialism that comes from the 10th amendment that all powers not specifically enumerated in the Constitution belong to the states."
Reeves realizes one of the biggest issues with a state putting in common core standards will be how to implement them while its state officials continue with its own set of standards and assessments. He acknowledged that teachers will initially be faced with an expanded amount of content needing coverage in the same amount of instructional time.
He said that until old state tests are replaced with the new ones, educators will "have to power standards that have leverage, application to multiple disciplines, that have got endurance & will last through a number of years, and that are most essential to the next level of learning."
For those interested in whether standards are used in other countries:
"We notice furthermore that other industrialized countries are able to have common standards among there entire country without any violation being done to their constitution, to their human rights," says Reeves. "No Black Hawk helicopters are swooping down to drop tests on the heads of children. It's just a way to try to become more efficient."
In his conclusion, Reeves contended that educational standards development is a worldwide phenomenon that has worldwide challenges.
Hopefully, Minnesota policymakers will see their value and not make getting the strongest ones possible in place harder than it has to be.