The most important standard

When I first read the Common Core Anchor Standards, I wanted to cry. Partly out of frustration, partly out of relief. Finally! I thought. We can implement and assess the skills that kids most need! Teaching to the thin standards of No Child Left Behind left many skills behind: the ability to read complex text, the ability to problem solve, gather data, support a claim, and think beyond rote memorization in order to pass a test. Drilling students on information retention is outdated in a culture where information is readily accessible. Here, instead, are the skills our students will need to be successful in the 21st century:

  • Mastery of core subjects (math, science, history, government, reading, etc.).
  • Global awareness.
  • Financial and economic literacy.
  • Civic and health literacy.
  • Information and media literacy.
  • Life and career skills.

Students will learn additional 21st century skills: how to work independently, managing time and goals to be self-directed learners. They will also learn how to add their individual skill sets to diverse teams and collaborate with others in person and via technology (www.p21.org).

Critics of the Idaho Core Standards should understand that Idaho teachers incorporate these standards into core content curriculum outlined by each district. A close reading of the standards reveals their purpose through the verbs which define what students will be able to do with content area knowledge. Here are a few of my favorite verbs: “cite, analyze, determine, trace, evaluate, write, speak, listen, publish, delineate, adapt.” (www.sde.idaho.gov)

Students in mathematics, for example, will not only learn the algorithms used in statistics, they will solve real-life problems where statistics are required. They will apply knowledge; they will think like mathematicians, not simply memorize formulas for a standardized test. New testing platforms will assess whether or not students can think critically, read closely, organize information, and communicate in speaking and writing.

I admit: I am nervous. It’s scary to be asked to change, to stretch as an educator and grow my practice. It’s humbling as a parent to know my child’s skills, which until now have been good enough, will be challenged. Students will need to apply higher level thinking skills in order to succeed. They will be pushed to read widely, think critically, and communicate effectively. Mostly, though, I’m blessed to work with other teachers, parents, students, and community members who have embraced the courage to move beyond what we thought was working, and re-envision education to deliver our best. That’s the most important standard.