During the past four years, the School District of Janesville has been working diligently to upgrade and revise the existing district curriculum to ensure that students who graduate from the district are college and career ready. An important element of this effort is to align the district curriculum to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The Common Core State Standards originated from the National Governors Association who sought to create a series of improved and more rigorous learning standards that would be applied nationwide. Previously, each state had set its own benchmarks for proficiency on state standardized tests. This practice created inconsistency with some states setting the bar high and others low. The Common Core is designed to establish national standards so states cannot use soft benchmarks to make every student appear to be above average; therefore, an important goal of the Common Core is to ensure that students in Georgia are making the same progress on universal learning targets as those in Wisconsin. The State of Wisconsin formally adopted the Common Core in 2010 and joined 44 states in this collaborative effort to enhance student achievement outcomes for its students. In a related matter, the state legislature approved retiring the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) and replacing it with a new Common Core based assessment known as the Smarter Balance Assessment. The School District of Janesville has been active with piloting this new assessment in select schools as determined by the Department of Public Instruction. Feedback from the pilot schools confirms that the new assessments are a more academically challenging experience for our students than the former WKCE. In addition, feedback from pilot schools also validates the need to upgrade and revise the current district curriculum to more rigorous levels.
While many educators agree that the Common Core State Standards are not perfect, they are a big improvement over the former Wisconsin Model Academic Standards. Specifically, the CCSS offers more specific direction to educators relative to more precise learning targets at each grade level and contains higher expectations for student learning outcomes. It is unclear to district officials what aspects of the content of the Common Core are of concern and thus causing some state politicians to ask for their repeal. For example, CCSS standards in reading and language arts for fifth graders seem reasonable and state that students should be able to
1) Find information from print and digital resources to solve a problem;
2) Identify the main ideas and supporting details in a text;
3) Cite evidence to support an answer.
It then falls to states and local school districts to determine exactly how students achieve these targets and how the curriculum is developed.
State Superintendent Tony Evers stated that “It’s campaign season in Wisconsin and around the country, and, not surprisingly, politics trumps sound policy.” As Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, I believe that such an “about face” in curriculum reform efforts would be counterproductive. “A considerable amount of time and effort has already gone into teacher professional development, the purchase of new educational resources and the development of aligned curriculum in preparation for implementation of the Common Core and the administration of the new assessment in the spring of 2015. It is estimated that school districts in Wisconsin have already spent over 25 million dollars with Common Core development. The repeal of the Common Core would cause considerable confusion and disruption and may be perceived as politically meddling in the work of educators. Also, abandonment of Common Core State Standards would sacrifice our ability to make true comparisons between and among the educational performances of students in different states. This would take us back to the original problem the governors were trying to address by creating the Common Core, thereby robbing us of the opportunity and promise of real accountability for student learning and achievement.
In conclusion, it seems largely impractical to replace the Common Core Standards with new state standards at the start of the upcoming legislative session. Those few states that have replaced the Common Core State Standards (Indiana) have generated a set of standards that look nearly identical to the CCSS. The School District of Janesville’s Board of Education went on record last spring (2014) by adopting a resolution that supported the Common Core State Standards in the State of Wisconsin. “As a final reflection, I believe we need to stay the course with the Common Core, making adjustments and refinements as necessary and not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater as we strive to ensure that our graduates are career and college ready.”