The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

An alternate View of the CCSS and Their Expectations

on February 3, 2016

Today’s post was contributed by Don Bellairs who is currently living in Switzerland, where he has been learning the language(s) slowly while helping a team from the University of Bern design a political science curriculum for Swiss elementary students.  He is a gifted teacher who is well qualified to respond to my critiques of the student tasks suggested in Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards.

What Dr. Yatvin has done with her post that listed and evaluated the middle school sample tasks for English Language Arts is exactly what the process needs…tweaking suggestions, not frontal assault and generalized condemnation.

As a professional, I appreciate Dr. Yatvin outlining her credentials, especially her capable leadership of the National Council of Teachers of English–of which I have been a member–an organization that should be included in the necessary future modifications of the CCSS design. Perhaps American educators need a grassroots movement to have Dr. Yatvin’s voice added to the group who evaluates the tweaking process?

As I read the poorly written sample tasks provided and Dr. Yatvin’s arguments for and against them, it became apparent that there are ways in which we can ALL contribute to the success of these important reform goals.

First, we need to change the language and the tone in the conversation about tests which have been branded “high stakes” by obstructionists and now reside in the political lexicon with other lightning-rod terms like “pro-life” and “climate change,” used by skillful politicians as code words to incite the ire of uninformed or frightened American citizens.

American public education desperately needs good tests, which are properly administered and responsibly applied to future policy decisions.  Such tests will provide crucial data with which people can improve the schools that we educators provide to America’s taxpayers.  Modifying the existing standards to maximize suitability should always be an objective, but there is no good reason to resist them wholesale. We educators need to recognize and strive to achieve the enormous potential of these challenging standards, not rationalize shortcomings as reasons to abandon them.

It occurs to me that we could crowd-source lesson plan ideas for each of the CCSS standards by encouraging creative teachers to weigh in on how to approach some of the complicated concepts. We could eventually design whole units that could be introduced in teacher prep programs at universities. Long ago I came to believe that the very best part about teaching is the problem-solving with master teachers, people who could easily have run corporations or represented governments but chose instead the humbling profession of teaching in order to let their lives’ work be developing our most important national resource: Good citizens.

Although I concede education credentials and years of experience to Dr. Yatvin, I have been able to teach such difficult pieces as Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” to deaf high school kids at the Kentucky School for the Deaf; to grades 5-8 combined language arts classes at a private school, Westwind Academy in Mt. Holyoke, MA; to seventh and eighth graders at Clark-Moores Middle School in Richmond, KY; and to seventh graders at Meadow Park Middle School in Beaverton, OR. I have pretty much covered everything that Dr. Yatvin says can’t be covered.

I believe that, if a teacher is creative, he/she can teach quantum physics to kindergarten classes. The nationwide establishment of high standards will take a lot of time and energy to implement, but nothing is better than when we can see and feel education working.  I envision a future when American elementary students learn algebra, philosophy and psychology using age-appropriate, motivational techniques that have been derived, in part, from information we will have gleaned from reaching together for difficult but attainable standards. We sell our students and their teachers short when we proclaim them incapable without first rising to accept this challenge.  We all know 13-year-olds who can not only recognize and distinguish between analogies and allusions, but also can also write and produce movies explaining those distinctions.



One response to “An alternate View of the CCSS and Their Expectations

  1. Gary Hargett says:

    The term “high-stakes tests” is not inflammatory rhetoric. When test scores are used to evaluate teachers, determine whether students are promoted or graduate, and can be used as an excuse to close schools, those are indeed high stakes. It is not an attribute of the tests themselves but a description of how the test scores are used.

    Everyone has been asking for better tests, but they have not articulated what would make the tests better or what kind of information the test scores would provide that current tests do not. We often hear pleas for more “authentic” tests. That discussion has been going on for decades, and we have found that there is a big trade-off between authenticity and reliability.

    If we’re going to have better tests, then the discussion has to bet specific about those questions: What should tests measure differently, and what new kinds of information should they provide?

    Gary Hargett
    (As for qualifications, I did graduate work in test theory and test design and have participated in test development at the state level, including test design, item development, item revision, and the alignment of test items and standards.)


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