Two Idaho leaders voice Common Core concerns

We have serious concerns about the rollout of Common Core which we feel need to be addressed.

First: Common Core has not been pilot or field tested.  Given this fact, CCSS may contain solid standards or they may contain several serious flaws which will harm students. We simply don’t know because of the lack of research. No empirical evidence exists to indicate that CCSS is better than the current Idaho standards.  Therefore, why are we risking a whole generation of students on a set of standards that have not been tested?

Another concern is that in CCSS math has no remediation built in or “looping.” Looping is a continual review of previously covered concepts. High quality math curriculum introduces a new concept each day, reviews previous concepts each day, and uses story problems to challenge students to apply the math concepts learned to real life situations.

If Common Core does not support, encourage and require remediation or looping, then, for this issue alone, they should be rejected. All successful math teachers will provide testimony to the fact that students need continual remediation.

It is said that Common Core is a set of standards and not a curriculum; however, curriculum follows standards and testing follows curriculum so they are intertwined. It is also claimed that the Common Core standards can be taught in a variety of ways. However, this appears to be an overstatement with certain teaching methods required.

Second: the rollout of Common Core has been implemented very quickly which is leading to frustration on the part of teachers, students, and parents. A much slower piloted rollout would ease these growing concerns.

Third: the danger of universal standardization through common core. Standardization is a powerful tool; however, standardizing the wrong thing or having the wrong standards can lead to stagnation, lack of innovation and decline. Districts and teachers need to have greater autonomy and promote education that is focused on the individual student. CCSS is the most invasive standardization effort we have ever witnessed. One size does not fit all students.

Fourth: the length, cost and level of difficulty associated with the test. The test will take much longer than previous tests. The SBAC test is also significantly harder. Recently, administrators in Madison School District 321 took a sample third-grade SBAC literature exam. These individuals with advanced college degrees took up to 15 minutes to answer only 10 questions. If the exam is that hard for adults, what will this do to our young children? There is a fine line between challenging our students and frustrating them and making them feel intellectually inadequate.

Have we figured out how to challenge without discouraging our students? We don’t think so. Also, the test has portions that must be hand-graded. The annual cost of the ISAT is about $5.8 million. The State Department of Education believes the SBAC will cost about the same. We think the cost will be between $8 million and $10 million because of the extra time and cost of hand grading.

Fifth: the SBAC assessment requires data to be entered for each student that the Smarter Balance group will have access to because they are giving the test and need to breakdown the data. The danger is that it appears the federal government will have access to this data through Smarter Balance. If this is the case, Idaho cannot protect individual student data from the federal government if Idaho gives the SBAC test. This is a fundamental issue of privacy that needs to be seriously debated and the long-term ramifications understood.

Though it is all well and good for us to express our concerns, we also have several suggestions that will address these concerns.

First: Slow down. Pilot Common Core in school districts that want to adopt Common Core standards and allow other school districts to opt out. This would allow the proper time for a field test and eventual comparisons between districts to see if Common Core methods and standards are actually superior or not.  Pilot testing would provide informed empirical data rather than subjective opinion upon which we are now acting.

Second: for those school districts that opt out, let them drop out of the SBAC test and focus their preparation utilizing the ACT or SAT. These two tests are already familiar and student test results recognized by colleges and universities. This would provide college readiness comparisons between Common Core and non-Common Core districts and provide greater local autonomy and decision making for boards of trustees. Utah, for example, has adopted Common Core but has refused to adopt the SBAC test and plans on replacing it with ACT.

Third: Allow the non-Common Core districts to create their own End of Course assessments over the next three years to test progress for students in third through 10th grades. This test would be less expensive, less time consuming and provide students, parents and teachers with a much faster turnaround time to learn their results.

Fourth: support Senator Thayn’s bill to allow parents to choose alternative math curriculum in elementary school and alternative curriculum for government class in high school. This would engage the parents, provide greater local control and allow for even more competition of ideas.

Preserving our Idaho heritage of local control, individual academic freedom and allowing for competition of methods and ideas only makes sense.

  • Bert Stoneberg

    Most mathematics teachers that I know including myself (I have an Idaho 6-12 mathematics teaching certificate) use one version or another of the 7-step lesson plan design that Dr. Madeleine Hunter, UCLA, developed. It was widely used during the 1970s and 1980s. The elements of her model are so widely used today that her contribution is rarely acknowledged formally.

    The seven elements of Hunter’s lesson design were:

    • Anticipatory Set (focus, hook)
    • Purpose (objective for the lesson, why students are learning this)
    • Standards/expectations
    • Modeling (show)
    • Guided Practice (follow me) – The teacher leads the students through the steps necessary to perform the skill using the tri-modal approach – hear/see/do.
    • Checking For Understanding – The teacher uses a variety of questioning strategies to determine “Got it yet?” and to pace the lesson – move forward?/back up?
    • Independent Practice (homework)

    Note that standards/expectations appear on the third step. A lesson plan must ultimately contribute to student attainment of the standards. A sound lesson plan enables excellent teaching. The standards never address how the content is to be taught, only that the content should be taught.

  • Kevin S. Wilson

    Mr. Thayn’s concerns about the Common Core appear to take on a different flavor when he is speaking to members of the Tea Party. With the Tea Party as his audience, as it was when he wrote “Thoughts on Common Core” for the blog of the Gem State Tea Party (Oct. 4, 2013), he says, “One camp opposed to Common Core believes that Common Core should be repealed. I like to point out to them that if Common Core is repealed that all six problems still exist. There is still a threat of the nationalization of public education, data mining by the federal government will still be a problem, discussions on standards will still take place, testing is still an issue, cost is still and issue, and what is taught in school is still an issue.”

    Mr. Thayn will protect us from “nationalization of the curriculum” by introducing legislation that “allows parents to choose any curriculum for math in elementary school or any curriculum for government class. This means that the curriculum does not have to be approved by the feds, by the state, or by the local school board.”

    His concerns about the standards themselves are driven by concern about the “education establishment.” Mr. Thayn says, “My concern about the education establishment is that educators tend to follow the crowd rather than raise concerns that are not accepted by administrators or education experts. They tend to yield to peer-pressure rather than raise concerns. I do not know if this is because they are afraid of losing their job or they lack confidence in their own ideas or if they have been conditioned to go along.”

    Mr. Thayn is concerned that “correct answers on a test must count more than the process.” Consequently, he has appointed himself and other legislators to the position of test designers, declaring that “any test that gives a wrong score for the correct answer (because the process is lacking) while giving credit for the wrong answer if the process is correct should be prohibited within the state of Idaho.” This from a vocal proponent of local control.

    Finally, Mr. Thayn is concerned about the “the sexually explicit nature of some of the recommended literature [associate with Common Core].” He is so concerned that he requested that Superintendent Luna “contact the Smarter Balance test creators to see if passages from these books could be barred from tests in Idaho. If they can, then we have some control over the nature of the test. If they cannot be barred, then the test is of real concern.”