Common Core Conundrum

boy with book overwhelmed

Uttering these three simple words can cause panic in parents and frustration in teachers and administrators: Common Core Curriculum. As parents and educators, it is best not to feed into the frenzy and instead have an educated discussion.

Learning standards designate what students should know and be able to do in each grade. Over the next few years, New York and more than 40 other states across the country will transition to a new set of learning standards called the Common Core. These new standards offer a clear picture of what students need to learn each year in order to graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and careers. Keep in mind that the federal standards provide a framework that sets benchmarks for what each student should know at each grade level. That, I believe, is a positive thing. It may seem confusing but keep in mind that the Common Core is only a vehicle for instruction.

True, the way students are taught is changing considerably. However, I remember in the 1960’s hearing my parents and their peers complaining about “the New Math,” and fretting over how to help their children. Over the years, new methods have always alarmed parents. Changes are sometimes not easy to accept. Especially if you have a few kids and it seems that just as you get the hang of one program, a new one is on the way.

Many years ago, I recall a veteran teacher making a comment about a “gifted and talented class.” She said, “In my day, this class would have been called a regular class, now they are geniuses!”  Although she may have exaggerated the discrepancies in abilities, it made me wonder if changes needed to be made. Over the years many parents, teachers, and administrators were in agreement.

Some examples of what your child will be expected to do with the implementation of Common Core Curriculum are:

  • Read more non-fiction and develop a bigger vocabulary through English language lessons.
  • In math, students will be expected to focus on fewer topics and spend time practicing and memorizing math facts. This will lay a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student’s ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically.
  • There will be more emphasis on critical thinking and analysis and students will be required to support their ideas and arguments with text-based evidence in their writing.
  • They will be required to use technology effectively.

As any college student majoring in Education will tell you, these are the practices and ideals teachers have been striving for generations. Is there anything wrong with wanting students to strive for rigorous standards that will prepare them for college and careers by the time they graduate high school? I doubt many parents would say they do not want those skills for their child. That said, how do we help our children and what about the testing mania?

First, the testing mania is not new. In public schools specifically, a tremendous emphasis has been put on testing for decades. What has become appalling is that teachers are forced to spend too much time “teaching to the test” or engaging in considerable test prep and overtesting during the school year. It has been argued that the tougher standardized testing requirements do not meet the individualized needs of students and leave many students – especially those with special needs – in the dust. It is imperative to remember that each child is unique and the cookie cutter-like approach to test taking can be daunting.

The Core Curriculum is designed to be built over time. In a perfect world, it would be implemented in kindergarten and then phased in year by year. When it is not, it causes the problem of upper grade students falling behind because those prerequisite skills may not have been taught. Fortunately, good teachers hunt for the proper materials and compensate for these lapses. Parents, in turn, are expected to do their part as well.

What Can Parents Do to Help?

  • Continue to be supportive of your child and the teachers who are working very hard. Never assume a student is entitled to high marks if he has not worked hard to gain them. Do not assume that a 95 in Math guarantees a 95 in Reading.
  • Use technology as a tool for learning. I have seen students leave on Friday unable to do multiplication and come in on Monday proficient. Instead of watching movies and playing video games, their parents made them (yes I said made them) sit in front of the computer or iPad and play multiplication and division games for hours!
  • Study your school’s website for ideas and suggestions. Many teachers and administrators take the time to provide valuable information and post it for your convenience.
  • At times, parents have voiced frustration when their child struggles with homework. Some complain they can’t help their kids. When this happens, write a note to the teacher asking for help or clarification. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for examples or resources.

What You Should Know About Test Scores:

  • Lower test scores do not mean your child didn’t learn and make progress last year. Because the new tests are more challenging, students’ scores statewide are lower than in the past.
  • The new tests reflect the changes your children will face as they move from elementary school to middle school to high school and beyond.
  • The test scores do not give the full picture of your child as a student. Tests are only one component showing what students know and are able to do. The results give teachers a guide on how they can help students learn more. Teachers also look at classwork, participation, and homework as other ways to measure progress.

In the upcoming year we could see the Common Core completely unravel or hopefully turn into a curriculum that works. No matter what happens, hold your standards high for education, work with your children, and strive for their best performance. As for the Core Curriculum, it was always my impression that we have had one from the beginning of public education. It was called Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. In the end, it all comes down to how good the teacher is and what kind of support children receive from their parents.

By Marianna Randazzo, Teacher, Staff Developer, and Author 

Sources: www.corestandards.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions • www.schools.nyc.gov/default.htm

Click Here for tips on how you can help your child become a better reader and writer.