August 15, 2013
Dr. Leonard Golubchick, Adjunct Professor of Education, Metropolitan College of New York, Long Island University, St. Johns University
The Common Core Standards can impact educational decision making if we provide appropriate professional development for staff and if we provide curriculum that matches the standards in order to connect curriculum (the written document that informs teaching) with instruction (how are we applying methodology to teach the curriculum) and with assessment (which informs educators what children have learned and how children demonstrate what they learned).
The Common Core Standards provide expectations which should inform curriculum development and appropriate assessment. The driving forces of the English Arts Standards are: building knowledge through content rich nonfiction and informational texts; reading and writing grounded in evidence from text; and regular practice with complex text and is academic vocabulary. The driving forces for the Mathematics Standards are: the focus on mathematics in order for students to gain a strong foundation and understanding; to provide coherence from one grade level to another and to link major topics within grades; and to develop rigor and conceptual understanding in teaching key concepts; speed and accuracy in calculations; to have students develop procedural skill and fluency as well to apply mathematical concepts.
The new tests based upon the Common Core Standards were designed without anyone recognizing that no curriculum was developed, professional development for staff, so that the standards can be intergraded into daily classroom practice, was inefficient or lacking and there was no consideration how children learn based upon cognitive and brain research.
We know that children construct mental images or maps based upon experiences. The great psychologist Piaget described this development as preoperational. At this stage of development children in grades k-6 are thinking at the concrete level. Abstract thinking is greatly delayed due to children engaging in isolated activities as a result of technology and familial issues. The current tests did not consider this concept or the concept of readiness; in addition many questions were at an abstract level which many of the children tested have yet to build the cognitive structures necessary for success on these particular tests. Obviously test makers in the future have to consider these attributes of cognitive development.
We know from brain research that the brain searches for meaning. Research informs us that we naturally seek connections between new information and past experiences; when connections are made new information is retained. In schools this is abetted through graphic organizers like thematic maps and Venn diagrams. Furthermore, as we build curriculum around what students already know and link the new information to real-life experiences, project based learning activities and personal associations, the tests linked to the Common Core Standards have to be based upon what children are learning in the classroom. There should not be a “secret test” where children are tested on what they are supposed to learn rather than on what they learned. This goes to the issue of creating curriculum which is linked to the tests and obviously linked to what is being taught. The new Common Core tests did not consider this important step.